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Livestock rustlers continue despite the pandemic

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27th January 2021

Livestock rustlers continue despite the pandemic

Farm animals worth an estimated £2.3m were stolen from UK farms last year
Cost of rustling fell in most regions under the pandemic but the South West saw a sharp rise
‘Sheep slaughtered in field’ prosecutions and lockdown may have deterred criminals
Warning of resurgence in rural crime when COVID restrictions ease. 

New figures released today by leading rural insurer NFU Mutual reveal that farm animals worth an estimated £2.3m were stolen from UK farms last year, making rustling one of the most costly crimes for British farmers after vehicle and machinery theft.

Although the pandemic saw the cost of rustling in the UK decrease by a quarter, in the South West region the cost of animals stolen rose by over a third to an estimated £320,000.

In the Midlands a sharp fall of 44% in 2020 followed the successful prosecution of livestock thieves who horrified farmers and the public in 2019 by barbarically slaughtering large numbers of sheep in fields in Northamptonshire and leaving their remains behind.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Last year’s overall fall is encouraging news to an industry which has worked hard through the pandemic to keep the nation fed.

“Tougher police enforcement certainly seems to have taken effect and the Coronavirus restrictions may have also deterred criminals who would have been easier to detect during lockdown.

“However, the latest figures from NFU Mutual’s claims are not a reason for complacency and we are deeply concerned this crime continues - even at a time of crisis. Modern rustling is a large-scale, organised crime causing suffering to animals, adding financial pressures to farmers and putting public health at risk.

“We are worried that when movement restrictions ease there could be a resurgence as thieves target the countryside again. We are urging farmers to remain vigilant and check stock regularly.”

Rustling has always been an aspect of farming but ten years ago NFU Mutual would rarely see claims of more than a dozen sheep taken at a time. The insurer now regularly receives reports of thirty to a hundred sheep being taken in a single raid.

Rebecca added: “As well as causing untold suffering to ewes, who may be in lamb when they are stolen, rustling is causing high levels of anxiety for farmers who have built up their flocks over many years.”

NFU Mutual has welcomed the successful prosecution and jailing of criminals responsible for horrific killings and butchery of sheep in fields, which shocked the nation in 2019. In November 2020, a further joint operation between Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Police resulted in the conviction of a man for the theft and slaughter of sheep in Rugby. More recently in January this year, a 20-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy were sentenced in connection with the theft of a lamb in South Warwickshire.

Carol Cotterill, from the Warwickshire Police Rural Crime Team said: “Livestock thefts can be extremely distressing to both the animals who suffer, and also to the farmers who bred and raised them. This is not to mention the financial implications involved.

“Our Rural Crime Team is determined to reduce rustling offences and to investigate when they do occur, to ensure those who are responsible are brought to justice for their actions.”

To avoid buying unsafe stolen meat which has been slaughtered illegally, NFU Mutual advises members of the public not to buy meat from unusual sources and to look for the Red Tractor logo.

NFU Mutual is involved in a number of schemes with police forces around the UK which not only share valuable intelligence but also support the training of officers to work more closely with farmers and identify livestock theft. The insurer has also supported secure shelters for stolen farm animals so they can be cared for while police investigations take place.

Preventing rustling

Modern livestock thieves scout the countryside for targets and come equipped to steal with large vehicles. Protecting flocks requires increasingly sophisticated measures. To deter livestock thieves, NFU Mutual advises farmers to:

  • Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up to date
  • When possible graze livestock in fields away from roads
  • Check stock regularly - and vary times of feeding/check ups
  • Consider a high-tech marking system such as TecTracer which puts thousands of coded microdot markers into a sheep’s fleece
  • Join a Farm or Rural Watch scheme to share information about rural crime in your area
    Ask neighbours to report any suspicious sightings to the police, or to give information 100% anonymously to the Crimestoppers Hotline 0800 555 111
  • Dial 999 immediately if an incident is taking place - do not approach criminals

Advice about rural crime trends and protecting farms and rural property is available from NFU Mutual’s 2020 Rural Crime Report:


For further information please contact:

Rebecca Davidson
Rural Affairs Specialist
Direct Dial: 01789 416113
Mobile: 07583 009448

About NFU Mutual:

NFU Mutual offers a wide range of products, including general insurance, life, pensions, and investments. These products and services are delivered through our network of NFU Mutual Agent offices, as well as through our direct sales and service centres. With 295 local businesses located in rural towns and villages throughout the UK, NFU Mutual has become part of the fabric of rural life and remains committed to serving the needs of our members nationwide.

NFU Mutual is proud to deliver more than simply insurance. Making farming safer, supporting rural initiatives across the UK and helping to look after the environment are just some of the ways we do that. To find out more about everything we do to support our communities, visit