High-tech weapons being used against Scotland's sheep rustlers

Coded paint and swallowable tracking devices are being used in the battle against Scotland’s sheep rustlers.

Sheep rustling is on the increase in Scotland.

Large-scale sheep rustling has become a sophisticated crime with thousands of animals being stolen every year by organised criminal gangs.

It is estimated rustling has cost farmers north of the border more than £200,000 over the last two years.

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Previously sheep theft was an opportunistic small-scale crime, made easier by the ease of removing traditional tags and colour markings.

New deterrents include special coded sheep marking paint which is used on the animal’s fleece and skin as well as tracing equipment which is swallowed and can then be used to help identify stolen sheep.

It is estimated rustling in Scotland has cost farmers more than £200,000 over the last two years.

Hugh Stewart, a hill farmer from Upper Kidston near Peebles, said 1,300 of his sheep had been lost in recent years.

Now special coded fleece paint and tracing equipment that is swallowed can help identify stolen sheep.

The new technology is far harder for criminals to get around than more traditional tags and colour markings.

PC Willie Johnston, from Police Scotland’s rural crime unit, said the new paint features coded microdots on the fleece and skin that can be traced to farms.

“It’s an overt and a covert means of marking them, security marking them, so it’s easy for us to identify them when we recover them.”

When the thieves steal sheep they can easily cut the ear tags out and replace them with their own.

An electronic identification device can be swallowed by a sheep and lies in its rumen. (one of a sheep’s stomach chambers)

PC Johnston added: “You’re always going to get a hit on the real identity because it’s lying inside the animal.”

He said livestock was often stolen to breed from as well as simply for meat.

Mr Stewart, who has had cheviot and blackface sheep stolen, said: “We’ve made losses every year for about the last five years.”

“We’ve been breeding stock up here 40 or 50 years and all the best sheep’s disappearing, so it’s really your lives work gone down the drain isn’t it?”