CRIMINAL gangs are being blamed for stealing almost £1m worth of livestock and equipment from Cumbria’s countryside.
NFU officials say farmers are threatened with financial ruin.
In the latest incident, 53 sheep and lambs were snatched from land near Old Scotch Road, Lambrigg. It follows a raid on July 20 when 20 sheep and lambs were taken from land at Gaisgill, near Tebay, The extent of farm crime was revealed in NFU Mutual’s rural crime survey, which saw a ‘worrying’ 39 per cent increase in Cumbria last year.
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Farm crime rose by 13 per cent in the North West, with quad bikes (ATVs), tools and livestock among the most targeted items.
Rising meat prices are believed to be one factor in the rise of sheep rustling and criminals are also believed to be turning to rural areas because CCTV and other security measures were making it more difficult in urban areas.
Amanda Wallbank, the senior agent at NFU Mutual’s Appleby branch, said repeated thefts pointed towards “a very organised group of people who are aware that the stolen items will be replaced and so are re-targeting them.”
Up from £3.9million in 2012, rural crime is now costing the North West economy an estimated £4.4m, with Cumbria losing £920,000. Throughout the UK, the cost is estimated to be £44.5m.
“It can be devastating for businesses and families,” said Garry Watson, NFU Mutual’s branch manager in Bury.
Crimes reported recently included diesel stolen from an HGV in Brough and a white Isuzu truck, chain saw and a stone saw were stolen after an outbuilding broken into at Orton.
The Dales are also suffering high levels of rural crime. Jack Wallbank, of Keasden, who keeps 500 sheep on an open common where is family have farmed for 400 years, said: “Last year we had 40 sheep and 40 lambs stolen over two months and we’ve had about six this year but you can’t just replace them.
“It’s frustrating and makes you mad and now it’s getting to the point where it’s not really worth having them.”
Victims now face rocketing insurance premiums.
Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes said: “This is clearly well planned and being conducted by people who know what they’re doing and you can say the same thing about machinery theft.”
He added that Cumbria Constabulary would be announcing a new rural crime strategy at the Westmorland Show on September 11.