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Police awareness campaign launched to help fight rural crime and livestock theft

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Police awareness campaign launched to help fight rural crime and livestock theft

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A new awareness campaign is being launched to encourage residents and countryside visitors to help fight rural crime and livestock theft in Devon.

Leading rural insurer NFU Mutual is joining forces with Devon & Cornwall Police to fund the Devon Livestock Initiative, in response to ongoing regular thefts of sheep in remote areas such as Dartmoor.

The project’s key aim is to encourage people to report suspicious activity to local farmers when they are out and about in the countryside. It is initially being launched on parts of Dartmoor and if successful it’ll be rolled out across Devon and Cornwall where farmers and parishes have theft concerns and would like an opportunity to work together.

The Devon Livestock Initiative will provide farmers with gate signs which include the times that stock are normally moved and ask members of the public who see sheep being moved outside these times, to call a displayed phone number for a local farmer or the police on 101. The initiative is part of a wider project being run by Devon & Cornwall Police, with support from NFU Mutual, to trial a range of security measures to prevent and detect livestock theft.

PC Martin Beck of the Devon & Cornwall Police Rural Crime Team, said: “The signage campaign is not just about the farmers, it is as much for those in our communities who live, work and pass our farms every day.

“We will be contacting parish councils and visiting other groups and community leaders in those pilot areas to help spread the word on how we can prevent theft together. Letting people know about the signs and helping them understand more about farming in their local areas can really make a difference in reducing and preventing theft.

“We want to help educate people. Some thefts take place during the hours of darkness while others will happen in broad daylight. You may not actually realise you are witnessing a theft or crime taking place so by putting these signs up, it helps to raise awareness of those activities which are out of the ordinary.

“This will help the community know what to look out for and, importantly, how to report it. We need to send a clear message to criminals that livestock theft will not be tolerated, there is every chance someone will see you and communities are joining forces to stop it.”

Kerry Hogan, NFU Mutual Plymouth Agent, said: “With more and more people using the Devon countryside for leisure, we are urging the public to support farmers and rural communities by reporting suspicious sightings and crimes to the police. This scheme gives clear guidance to moorland residents and visitors on what to do and who to call if they spot something happening which doesn’t look right.

“Farmers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic keeping the nation fed and caring for the countryside. By working together, we can help stop these thefts which are threatening the long-term future of our small farms.”

It’s hoped this new campaign will help farmers like Colin Abel, whose family have farmed sheep across thousands of acres of rugged Dartmoor for over a hundred years. Over the last decade, they have been plagued by sheep theft and Colin estimates the farm is now losing 200 sheep a year to thieves.

The moor’s unfenced roads and sparse population make it attractive to rustlers who have skills to round up sheep, transport them, and have a market for illegally slaughtered and butchered meat.

Farmer, Colin Abel, says: “The situation is getting worse. For small farms, the risk of having stock stolen is now making it too risky to graze sheep on the moor. Small farmers have been grazing sheep on Dartmoor for centuries as commoners, so the constant threat of theft is forcing an end to traditional farming life in West Devon.

“Because fewer sheep are being kept on Dartmoor, that’s leading to grass not being grazed which in turn brings a higher risk of fire. In a dry spell in February, we had one of the worst moorland fires we have ever seen, covering hundreds of acres of moorland.”

In July, Colin and his brothers were the first farm to take part in the pilot scheme which provides contact details for local residents and visitors to report suspicious activities such as people rounding up sheep at night.

Roz Hills, NFU Mutual Regional Manager for the South West, added: “We believe that when we join forces to work with farmers, police and local communities, we can really make a difference in tackling rural crime.

“The impact of rural crime cannot be underestimated. It is not just about the money to replace stolen equipment or livestock, it also has a big emotional impact on farmers and their families, causing disruption and affecting the valuable trust which enables rural communities to thrive. By working closely with Devon & Cornwall Police and the people who live and work in our communities, we are tackling this rise in livestock theft to deter thieves from stealing sheep and cattle in the future.”


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