Am Bratach No. 324
October 2018

Suspicion grows over unexplained sheep losses

Last week Bettyhill crofters initiated a meeting with officers from Police Scotland’s rural crime unit to discuss rising losses of young sheep from the area. The problem, the source of which remains unexplained, is also affecting neighbours from Borgie and Skerray. A local land owner and a representative of the Scottish government’s rural estates department joined crofters and farmers at the meeting in Bettyhill hall.

Those in attendance were told that the numbers lost ranged from ten to forty in the period from lambing time till clipping and gathering for lamb sales with mostly lambs and young sheep being targeted. To put the losses in context, one farmer stated that only three lambs were lost from a hill grazing similar to that of a crofter who lost forty lambs.

“Unexplained losses have occurred over the years, but this year seems to have brought an unsustainable amount of losses with some questioning the sense of continuing to keep sheep,” reported one crofter who attended the meeting.

The police officers explained their remit to cover all kinds of rural crime throughout Scotland from Shetland to the Borders. They stated that stealing of livestock by organised crime is now affecting all areas including those that were once seen as remote.

Whilst effecting arrests requires evidence, the officers stressed the importance of preventative measures. Tec Tracer keel which carries within it electronic information about the owner is available. Electronic boluses can be used on most sheep along with a black ear tag which warns that a bolus is carried in the sheep. This can then be read at points of movement and if ear tags do not correspond, questions will be asked.

Basic methods of prevention such as locked gates were mentioned but can conflict with rights of access and are irrelevant as a means of protection on open hill ground.

Vigilance and communication were also stressed so that any unusual activity in the area is shared; the local police officer emphasised the importance of keeping police informed of any suspicious activity. — Contributed

Rural Crime Statistics:

According to a report by rural insurer NFU Mutual, livestock theft cost the UK economy £2.4 million in 2017, up by £0.2 million from 2016. Meanwhile, across the UK, the cost of dog attacks on livestock rose by 67% over two years to an estimated £1.6m per year; £330,000 of this cost affected Scottish livestock producers. 

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