BORDERS farmers have been warned that they are working in one of the most vulnerable areas for rustling, after cases of livestock thefts in Scotland rose by a staggering 166 per cent last year.
Figures from leading rural insurers NFU Mutual showed the value of animals taken from farms across the country doubled last year.
And the cost of rustling to the Scottish farming industry was estimated at more than £250,000 in 2011.
The release of the rural crime statistics follow our report last week on the rise of roe deer kills in the Borders by poachers and gangs doing it for fun.
One stalker estimated deer numbers were down 50 per cent, while gamekeepers from the Lothian and Oxnam estates near Jedburgh also complained that the culprits damage fields and steal quad bikes and diesel.
However, Tim Price, NFU Mutual rural affairs spokesman, believes countryside crooks have started to target livestock as part of their crime sprees.
He told TheSouthern: “With its high concentration of sheep farming, and easy access to England, the Borders is particularly vulnerable to livestock thieves, and we urge farmers and their neighbours to be vigilant.
“During the last decade, livestock rustling has been at historically low levels, while rural thieves concentrated on easy pickings – stealing quad bikes, tractors and expensive power tools from farms.
“Now, however, high meat prices and improved security on farm vehicles appear to be leading to a resurgence in livestock rustling. In the last year we have seen a worrying increase in thefts in all livestock rearing parts of the UK – including Scotland.”
NFU Mutual estimates 67,000 sheep were taken from UK farms in 2011 at a cost of £36million.
Recent Borders cases include 10 sheep and 43 lambs stolen from a farm near Coldingham in May.
And 11 of the animals valued at £1,000 were swiped from a Heriot farm in November last year.
Mr Price said there have also been reports of pig, cattle, poultry and reared game bird thefts.
He added: “NFU Mutual sees a close correlation between the price of commodities and the level of theft. In recent years it has seen thefts of metal rocket when scrap prices have been high; thefts of diesel from farms increase in line with oil price increases, and now the same thing appears to be happening with livestock.”
The spokesman advised farmers and butchers buying stock to check livestock records and ear tags to ensure they are not stolen animals, and told members of the public to be wary of purchasing meat from unusual sources.
Mr Price also said farmers should padlock gates, clearly mark stock and keep records up to date, try to graze sheep in fields away from roads, ask neighbours to report unusual vehicles loading sheep and join a Farm Watch scheme.
A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: “Local officers regularly engage with farmers and gamekeepers in our countryside communities to offer crime prevention advice for protecting properties, livestock and other assets.
“Anyone who wishes to report a crime can contact their local policing team or visit the Lothian and Borders Police website at www.lbp.police.uk.”