POLICE are stepping up action to prevent livestock thefts after a number of incidents in rural North Yorkshire.

Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police's Rural Taskforce said: "Farmers are doing their best to make a living and keep food on our tables in these difficult times, so having livestock stolen is the last thing they need."

Officers are offering crime prevention advice to North Yorkshire farmers, urging people to report suspicious activity in the countryside, and are keeping up regular patrols in rural areas.

According to NFU Mutual, £2.5m worth of farm animals were stolen nationwide in 2018 - making it the most costly crime for farmers behind the theft of agricultural vehicles and farm machinery.

Criminals may be stealing livestock to illegally slaughter it, prompting concerns about animal cruelty, and that the meat could be entering the human food chain. In some cases, livestock theft may be linked to organised crime gangs.

Farmers in North Yorkshire are urged to ensure stock is clearly marked, and records are kept up-to-date; consider investing in a high-tech marking system; where possible, graze livestock in fields away from roads; check stock regularly – and vary feeding and check-up times; join a Rural Watch scheme to share information about rural crime in your area; report any suspicious activity to North Yorkshire Police, via 101, and ask neighbours to do the same; and dial 999 immediately if a crime is in progress – do not approach the suspects yourself.

The call for increased vigilance follows a number of livestock thefts from North Yorkshire farms, particularly in the Hambleton and Ryedale areas.

Between April 20 and 27, nine ewes and 53 lambs – texels and mules, with a value of about £6,500 – were stolen from a field east of Thirsk.

Overnight from April 22 to 23, a female goat, worth about £100, was stolen from a field near Pickering.

And 89 ewes, including 69 Swaledales, were stolen from a field near Leeming Bar, some time around Tuesday, March 24. The farmer discovered that a padlock securing the field had been broken.

Earlier this year, 88 piglets were stolen from a farm near Helmsley. It is not known exactly when the theft occurred, but it may have been between February 6 and 28. At that age the pigs would have been worth about £3,800 in total. The theft was discovered during a count in April.

Insp Hagen added: "Livestock theft can be devastating for farmers and their businesses, as well as causing unnecessary suffering to animals.

"If you think you have been a victim, or you have any information about who is committing these crimes, please call us.

"We take all reports extremely seriously as we work to keep these criminals away from North Yorkshire's farms."

If a crime is in progress, or someone suspected of a crime is nearby, call 999. If you don't need an emergency response, call 101.