Sheep rustling across the region is coming at a huge cost to farmers

Credit: ITV News

Police and farmers are asking people who live in the countryside to be vigilant after the theft of large numbers of livestock.

There were 600 sheep stolen in Somerset alone last year.

Recently, police seized 52 stolen sheep near Yeovil, two were so sick they had to be put down.

Rob Walrond likes to welcome people onto his family farm to talk to them about sustainable farming.

But into this friendly welcoming place came a highly professional gang who stole his entire flock of breeding ewes and young lambs.

He said, "It was a shock really more than anything else, the fact that someone could do that and come in the middle of the night, load up a whole flock of sheep, about 140 sheep. It was a young flock as well so there were some young breeding animals in there that had their whole life ahead of them."

The Walronds shop Credit: ITV News

Rob and his wife Lizzie sell meat from their own sheep and pigs in a farm shop.

It wasn't just the loss of £14,000 worth of animals, which were insured through the farmer's union, but they paid an emotional price too.

Lizzie said, "It literally felt like a physical punch and it took a long time. It makes you feel sick because the animals, you've worked with them and you've seen most of them born"

"We'd been shearing not long before. They were just part of the flock, part of the farm and part of you."

Credit: ITV News

Police want everyone in the countryside to be suspicious and report people moving animals late at night.

Superintendent Mike Prior, Avon and Somerset Police, said "Rural crime and the stealing of sheep has a massive impact on farmers, it's not just the cost of the sheep themselves it's the cost to the farmer in terms of the effort they put in to raise a flock."

"Often when the sheep are taken they are kept in poor conditions as were these sheep that we found the other day."

Superintendent Mike Prior Credit: ITV News

Since the theft, the Walronds have had their Land Rover taken, another was stolen from the village two weeks ago.

Turning farms into fortresses is not easy, chains on gates can be easily cut, but there is hope. It is possible that trackers could be placed in the stomachs of some sheep.

When moved illegally an alarm would be triggered. But it's early days and it would be expensive.