IT has been revealed that the theft of nearly 10,000 sheep across England and Wales last year has only resulted in one charge by police.

The results of a Freedom of Information request have shown that in 2018, 9635 sheep were stolen, up from 7606 in 2017 and 6337 in 2016, with Humberside seeing the biggest jump in the number of sheep theft incidents in 2018, while Dorset and North Yorkshire had the joint second highest.

Police in Dorset said there was a lack of resources to tackle rural crime.

All 43 police forces across England and Wales gave details of 381 incidents of sheep theft last year, but Hertfordshire Police was the only force to bring a charge.

Dorset Police has two dedicated rural officers in the county. One of those, Dorset Police rural crime officer Tom Balchin, said a lack of resources to tackle the crime had been 'frustrating' for him and the community.

He explained: "We're constrained to what we've got, and that's where we need the public to help us as well as people reporting things".

Tim Price, from NFU Mutual, which insures three quarters of the UK's farms, said a 'significant number' of sheep had been stolen from farms that had not experienced thefts before, with cases of more than 100 animals being taken at once.

"It's organised gangs, they've got big vehicles, they've got the skills to round up sheep and take them away," he said. "And very often they've got an outlet for them as well."