POLICE in the Okehampton area are appealing for help to track down sheep rustlers after 72 sheep were stolen in the Roadford Lake area over the last few days.

The West Devon neighbourhood policing team are currently working with the Devon and Cornwall Police rural affairs team to investigate the theft of the sheep, which would probably have been spirited away by the thieves in a sizeable vehicle.

The theft happened sometime on Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17 and anyone who saw anything suspicious is urged to get in touch with the police. In the last 12 months, police in West Devon have received six reports of thefts of sheep, with a total of 250 sheep being stolen in total.

Rural crime officer PC Martin Beck said: ‘Sheep rustling is a serious business. Millions of pounds worth of livestock are stolen across the UK each year. I don’t think we can snigger any longer that it is an old-fashioned country crime that isn’t important. It’s not just about the financial impact to farmers. There are animal welfare concerns and a risk to human health when food isn’t prepared and stored correctly.

He added: ‘We can all play a part in reducing theft by not buying meat from dubious people and places. We are working with partner agencies to investigate the problem but need the public’s help. Someone knows who is involved in this theft. For this or any other livestock theft please let us know or call Crimestoppers to report it anonymously.’

Police Sergeant Nathan Walker said the theft would have a huge impace on the farmers and livestock owners affected.

‘The theft of livestock presents a real challenge for our local business owners. Many of the livestock keepers in the area have spent years building their herds and flocks. Theft in such large numbers can have a lasting, damaging affect on local trade and employment.

‘This type of theft also raises concerns for the welfare of the animals while they are in the possession of the criminals that commit this type of crime.

‘At this challenging time we need to pull together as a community so I would urge anyone with any knowledge that can assist the investigation to get in contact.’

‘Please could anyone with information relating to the movement or theft of animals or any unusual activity in the area contact West Devon Police on 101 or via the website quoting crime reference number CR/058584/20.’

To report information anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The theft comes a week after Okehampton neighbourhood police officers joined with Dartmoor rangers to raise awareness of livestock worrying on the moor.

They joined Dartmoor National Park Authority rangers, Dartmoor Livestock Protection Officer Karla McKechnie and representatives from Dartmoor Commoners Council and the National Sheep Association to speak to walkers about their legal duty to prevent dogs harassing and attacking sheep and lambs. Sheep worrying leads to deaths of livestock every year on the moor.