Farmers in Wiltshire are on alert after reports of sheep rustlers have stolen nearly 200 animals in the space of two months, writes Tina Robins.

The thieves have struck at farms in north and west Wiltshire with one farmer losing 72 ewes during a single raid at his farm at Derry Hill, near Calne.

Another 61 were stolen from Broughton Gifford near Melksham.

Broughton Gifford farmer Steven Carnie said: “We don’t know where they’re going or how they’re going to be treated as a result of their theft.

“And you presume not very well. They’re not going to be put on display anywhere, especially with our marks and things on them.

“They’re going to be hidden away in the back of a shed until they’re disposed of in whatever way.”

Another farmer said: “Sheep are naturally vulnerable.They have to stay outdoors for health reasons, and in winter they are kept in fields across a large area, often far from their farms, to make the most of the available grass.

“Even behind a locked gate, they can make easy pickings for an experienced thief.”

Read more: Herd of cattle stolen in overnight farm raid in Somerset

The first sheep thefts were reported on November 7 when 45 sheep were stolen from a gated and locked field in Corsham Road, Lacock.

This was followed by the incidents in Derry Hill and Broughton Gifford. Each time slightly more sheep were taken during the raids.

PC Emily Thomas from Wiltshire Police is appealing for help from the public to find the culprits.

She said: “We are keeping an open mind but we believe these three incidents may be linked and those responsible must be skilled sheep handlers with trained dogs as this kind of theft requires a high level or organisation to be conducted quickly and undisturbed.

“Often, those responsible will not look suspicious to passers-by unless you are local and know who the farmers in your area are.

“Our message to the public would be to always be vigilant and if you see any vehicles or people you do not recognise dealing with livestock in your area, please call 101 and report your concerns as well as any description of vehicle you are able to obtain as soon as possible.

“Even if it turns out the individuals are legitimate, we would rather be made aware so we can check all is well."

Anyone with information is asked to call 101.