A SECURITY conscious South Lakeland farmer has resorted to radical measures to deter sheep rustlers after losing hundreds of animals in recent years.

Troutbeck farmer Pip Simpson has sprayed almost 800 of his flock with a luminous orange dye to help them stand out on the hillsides and make them less desirable to thieves.


Mr Simpson hopes his glow-in-the-dark Cheviots will be less prone to rustlers and bring an end to thieves fleecing his stock.

"Over the last four years we will have had towards 300 sheep go missing or pinched so we've had this constant problem with never being able to stop it," he said.

"The only solution we could find was to make them completely different to everybody else's so they've been sprayed luminous orange. It's just a dye – there's no chemicals or anything and it's not going to harm them at all.

"It's as if they've been Tango-ed, they're literally luminous orange."

But despite having to take the radical step, 50-year-old Mr Simpson believes there is a valid logic behind his method.

"We're hoping this will deter thieves because if they did get pinched they're bright orange and somebody is going to wonder where they've come from. It's a massive problem is sheep theft. As sad as it is, it's probably someone local who knows the area that's doing it."

While the decision to paint an entire flock orange is unusual, it is not unprecedented. In 2011 Dartmoor farmer John Heard did the same with his sheep, and he believes it has had a massive impact on tackling rustlers.

"It seems to have stopped the problem for us," he said. "We seemed to be the ones targeted here for losing sheep for whatever reason, but when they stand out people have a job moving them. If people start turning up with orange sheep other people know where they come from and then they can't be sold."

There is certainly reason for Mr Simpson and other Cumbrian farmers to take action. PC Helen Braithwaite, of Cumbria Police, said there had been an increase in the number of sheep thefts in recent years which was having a huge impact on farmers.

A recently-released NFU Mutual report highlighted that rural crime cost the north west of England £4 million in 2015, with livestock theft being the fourth most committed crime.

Just last month 113 Beltex sheep were stolen from Linthwaite Farm on Crook Road, Staveley, with two further incidents being reported in the Copeland area in recent weeks.

PC Braithwaite, wildlife, rural and environmental crime co-ordinator with Cumbria Constabulary, said: "Livestock is a valuable commodity and this type of crime can be devastating to farmers from a business point of view as theft of stock is from any type of business. Farmers also invest significant time and dedication into rearing stock and the loss can impact them also on a personal level.

"Some sheep are targeted for individual animals which have a high pedigree value and can add value to bloodlines of anyone’s breeding programme. Flocks of much larger numbers are stolen on a more organised level and sometimes taken to other parts of the country where they can be sold or slaughtered.

"Farmers and landowners can help by being vigilant to any suspicious activity and report anything that they are concerned about. Livestock theft can happen at any time so keeping fences and gates in good working order can help and ideally locking entrances wherever possible to fields and farm buildings."

Joanne Briggs, of the National Sheep Association, also highlighted the importance of community vigilance.

"The best practices in terms of security involve putting up CCTV and using padlocks and things," she said. "But the most important thing for farmers to do is ask people to be vigilant, getting them to look out for people moving sheep at odd times of the day.

"It's unusual for people to be moving them late at night for instance so asking people to keep an eye out is really important. The police will always investigate and farmers would much rather have to tell police: 'These sheep are mine' than the police not being called.

"If you see something dodgy always report it, farmers will be very grateful."

Carl Hudspith, NFU North West communications advisor, echoed the call for farmers and their communities to remain alert to the possibility of sheep rustling.

He said: "Unfortunately thieves do target animals and we would urge farmers to take extra security steps if possible, including locking gates and ensuring outbuildings are secure.

"At the end of the day it is very difficult to secure open fields in isolated parts of the countryside but rural communities are tight knit and the key message has to be one of vigilance and to report anything out of the ordinary to police officers.”