The number of insurance claims for livestock rustling across Devon and Cornwall dropped by eight per cent last year.

Although livestock worth an estimated £2.1million were stolen from UK farms in 2021, the amount of rustling has decreased for the second year running.

The latest figures from insurer NFU Mutual show that there was a 5.5 per cent drop on 2020. That first year of the pandemic saw the cost of livestock theft fall by 25.5 per cent, reversing a trend of increases over the previous decade.

Until the advent of large-scale farming and the development of modern road infrastructures, rustling rarely involved more than a couple of lambs or a single steer being stolen.

These days it involves organised criminal gangs, and claims reported to the insurer regularly involve over 50 sheep being taken in a single raid.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “It’s encouraging news that rustling has gone down for the second year running.

“Until recently it was very difficult to bring about prosecutions because of the difficulties detecting stolen animals and the likelihood that stolen sheep were usually sold for their meat.

"Now we are seeing hi-tech security and marking systems, along with DNA testing, each making it more difficult for criminals to escape justice.

“While the latest figures are going in the right direction, livestock rustling remains one of the costliest crimes after machinery theft.

"It’s a crime which attacks the roots of farming life and causes huge anxiety for farmers.

"It also causes suffering to stolen animals which are transported and slaughtered without concern for their welfare.

“The fact that large scale thefts are still taking place demonstrates there’s no room for complacency and we’re concerned that higher meat prices, combined with the squeeze on consumers, could lead to a new wave of livestock theft.”

Devon and Cornwall Police are rolling out an innovative anti-rustling scheme on Dartmoor which is deploying a range of different security systems to beat livestock thieves.

It also encourages community involvement by getting local residents and countryside visitors to report suspicious sightings of livestock being moved to farmers or the police.