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Rustlers to blame as sheep theft cases soar

Farmers have been told to raise their security after a huge increase in sheep thefts near the English border.

Four centuries after the Border Reivers last caused mayhem in southern Scotland, sheep rustling is still a serious problem, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has warned.

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Lisa Roberts, regional manager for the area, said hundreds of animals had been taken in recent months – with thefts in her locality just the tip of the iceberg.

“It is deeply worrying for livestock farmers that this type of activity is on the increase and is starting to form a trend,” she said.

“Though we now have a significant number of sheep thefts that have occurred throughout these parts it is unlikely that Lothian and Borders is alone in facing this problem and the warning goes out to livestock farmers around the country to be on their guard.”

At least 300 sheep have been stolen since May last year, Ms Roberts said, with many more incidents likely to have gone unreported. At current market rates, a sheep would be worth at least £50, but some prized breeding animals can go for thousands of pounds each.

“We would like members to be aware of any suspicious activity they may have witnessed,” Ms Roberts added. “Have there been any unusual livestock transport vehicles in the area? Has there been any unusual activity at farm sales? Do you know of anyone who may be looking to sell more stock than they would normally? Are abattoirs and butchers being offered stock from unexpected or unusual sources?”

Thefts are known to have occurred at farms across central and southern Scotland, with the worst-affected thought to be Redheugh Farm in Cockburnspath, which has lost about 200 sheep in the past few months alone. The thieves must have used a large vehicle to transport the livestock, the NFU said, and would have to have had good local knowledge.

Other farms fallen victim include Pirntation, at Fountainhall, near Heriot; Westruther Mains Farm, Westruther; and Hollybush Farm, Galashiels.

Lothian and Borders Police said the cost of the thefts would run into thousands of pounds, with expensive equipment taken alongside the animals. Plant machinery and quad bikes have gone missing, and some farmers have had their homes broken into as well.

“Police urge farmers and members of the public to take note of any suspicious vehicles in the area, particularly during the night,” a force spokesman said.

“Most livestock are transported during the day, and if you see a horsebox or livestock lorry at a time when you think you shouldn’t, make a note of the registration. Similarly, if you see such a vehicle parked next to a field where you know the farmer and don’t recognise the vehicle, take a note of the registration.”

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