Police in Somerset are urging rural communities to be extra vigilant after a spate of sheep rustling in the county.
In the last two weeks, five cases of sheep rustling have been reported to Avon and Somerset Police, the most recent being Sunday July 24 where 240 sheep were taken from a field overnight in Langport.
Another incident saw 60 sheep stolen from near Taunton. These were a mix off Dorset cross and Suffolk cross mules with a few Charollais sheep mixed in.
The Charollais ewe had the tag number UK36128202064 which had one blue hanging tag and one yellow button tag.
PC Katy Drabble from the Avon and Somerset rural crime team said: "Last year Somerset suffered extensive livestock theft, and as a result we proactively worked with farmers to raise awareness, promote crime prevention tactics and have run several successful, multi-agency operations targeting thieves.
"This year we were delighted that hadn’t really seen any livestock thefts throughout the spring and early part of the summer.
"However, in the last two weeks we have seen five incidents of sheep thefts in Chinnock, Mark, Ilminster and most recently South Petherton and Langport where 240 sheep were taken from a field overnight between July 24 and 25.
"Whilst the numbers are a lot lower than last year, these thefts have a huge impact on the livelihoods of the individual farmers and small holders.
"Not only do they have to buy new stock but it takes a long-time to build up a well-established flock again; the long-term impact is massive."
In June, July and September 2015 sheep rustling incidents cost more than twice as much as they did in 2014, according to NFU Mutual’s rural crime specialist Tim Price.
Following these incidents, Avon and Somerset Police are advising farmers to tag their animals and ensure all boundaries and gates are in working order to help prevent further crimes in the area.
PC Drabble said: "We are asking the communities of Somerset to be vigilant for anyone moving livestock around particularly at night, which is an unusual time to do so.
"If you see people in fields or with vehicles containing livestock at night, please give us a call - we would rather ascertain a person is there legitimately, than have to deal with a subsequent theft.
"We would suggest ensuring that your animals are tagged, boundaries and gates are in good order and wherever possible locked.
"If possible, put something heavy in front of gates to make life harder for thieves; however don’t leave trailers or anything that can be used to steal/transport the sheep.
"If you are in the trade and buying livestock please check the provenance and documentation of the animals is as it should be, and we would remind members of the public that if someone is offering you animals or butchery products for a price that seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
"Don’t create a market in which thieves can operate. Buying stolen property is an offence."