Rise in rural crime leads to Dartmoor farmer painting his sheep green to deter thieves

Rural crime could be rising due to the cost of living crisis, says NFU Mutual Credit: ITV News

Thieves are targeting farmers' livestock and farming equipment across the region, costing the industry hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Insurer NFU Mutual, which published its rural crime report on Tuesday, says there is concern that criminals are 'making up for lost time' and looking to cash in on stolen animals.

Dartmoor farmer Neil Cole has been covering the horns of his ewes with green paint to deter would-be thieves.

Dartmoor farmer Neil Cole says the green paint marks the sheep as his property. Credit: ITV News

"We've been doing it for a few years now," he said.

"If you put marking on the wool, somebody could shear them and the mark is gone. By doing it on the horns, they can't take it off, it's there for most of their life. And around here all the local farmers know they are my sheep."

These breeding ewes are worth between £100 and £120 each, and Neil says the cost of living crisis is threatening his livelihood.

"They are becoming a real easy target for people to steal as food prices go up," he said.

"We can't put padlocks and chains on every single fence and gate on the farm, it's just not practical."

Rural crime is a constant source of anxiety for farmers. Credit: ITV News

Last year rural crime is estimated to have cost farmers in Devon and Cornwall around £460,000.

In Dorset, that figure was £480,000; in Somerset £930,000; and in Gloucestershire £1.1million.

Insurer NFU Mutual believes thieves are now making up for lost time as the pandemic comes to an end.

Insurer NFU Mutual says farmers are seeing an increase in livestock theft. Credit: ITV News

Phoebe Ridley from NFU Mutual said: "We've seen an 18 per cent reduction in rural crime in the South West last year, but we're concerned that there will be an increase as we come out of lockdown and return to normality.

"We are seeing an increase in livestock thefts, but we're also seeing a number of agricultural vehicle thefts."

Acting Sgt Martin Beck, from Devon and Cornwall Police's rural affairs team, said: "It is important that farmers work together with the police and the wider community, they are our eyes and ears.

"There are some simple measures like taking keys out of quad bikes, locking gates and using property marking."