Sheepdogs are being targeted by rural thieves – here’s how you can help protect them

An increasing number of working dogs and sheep are being taken from farms, but there are ways the public can help.

Insurance company NFU Mutual has warned of a worrying trend affecting UK farms.

Scotland has seen a spike in sheep rustling, but now an increasing number of farmers are also at risk of losing their working dogs.

Trained sheepdogs can be worth as much as £15,000, and thieves have been using the animals to round up large numbers of sheep at a time.

A single sheep can be worth £100, so a theft can have devastating consequences for farmers and their families.

‘Thieves are using sheepdogs to round up sheep which are loaded into trailers or lorries late at night,’ said Martin Malone, Scotland manager for NFU Mutual.

‘A generation ago rustling was typically an opportunist, local crime. Now it’s organised with dozens or even hundreds of sheep worth thousands of pounds being taken in a single raid.’

Last month the insurer reported a seven-year spike in rural crime, costing £50 million a year.

‘Sheep rustling is now large scale, with gangs operating not just over counties but countries,’ said Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual.

‘The assumption is they are being slaughtered outside of the official system; butchered and sold on illegally.’

NFU Mutual issued advice to communities wanting to help protect farms from becoming target to criminals.

‘We believe that the best way to tackle rural crime is to involve everyone within the rural community,’ said a spokesman for the insurer.

‘Creating a close, watchful and interactive bond between farmers, police and countryside residents is vital in preventing crime and ensuring criminals are brought to justice.’

They advised those living in farming areas to look out for their neighbours and be aware of the increasing dangers of rural crime. Residents can join Farm Watch schemes to help organise security within the countryside.

The insurer also suggested sharing suspicious sightings with the local community and stressed the importance of maintaining links with the police, and reporting all rural crimes.

‘Under-reporting can create a detrimental cycle by which rural crime is underestimated and therefore not prioritised or sufficiently resourced,’ added the spokesman.

‘By proactively working together, rural communities can play a key role in ensuring farmers are able to continue to work effectively.’