By Mark Branagan
Farmers are under siege from a new generation of sheep rustlers, as the rising price of lamb encourages gangs to raid flocks to sell on as meat.
Nearly one farm a week is being raided in the valley of Swaledale in North Yorkshire, with £120,000 worth of livestock disappearing in just ten months.
Some hill farmers are now threatening to leave the industry unless something is done to prevent the thefts, and have called for police to sign up more rural recruits.
Richard Pearson from the National Farmers’ Union said more training was needed to help police monitor the countryside.
But while farming leaders have applauded a new police purge on rustling, they say more training is needed to educate modern officers in country ways.
Travelling criminals have been rounding up growing numbers of sheep because of rising lamb prices and a growing demand for mutton in increasingly popularethnic foods.
Farmers held a crisis meeting with Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan on Friday to discuss the plundering of their livelihoods.
Sgt Mark Hill, of North Yorkshire Police, said: 'Two or three farmers have been repeat victims in the space of just a few hundred acres.'
One of the hardest hit is Colin Price whose family started farming locally 70 years ago.
Mr Price’s valuable breeding stock is being spirited away from the open fells with up to 15 of the youngest and best bloods snatched in each of the repeated raids.
It had made him think twice about carrying on, he said, adding: 'It makes you question whether you should go out of sheep and go into keeping more cattle.
'There are not a lot of rural lads going into the police. That’s not the fault of the police but it is a problem.'