FOR the third time in as many years, a Dumfriesshire farmer has reported part of his flock of sheep missing to police.

John Barker, who farms at Capplegill Farm near Moffat, contacted the authorities after he noticed that 163 of his sheep were missing from his 3400acre farm. He believes they were taken some time between March 30 and April 2.

However, in the weeks since Mr Barker reported that original discovery, more ewes – that have all been scanned and are confirmed to be carrying single Cheviot lambs – have been taken from the farm and Mr Barker now believes that the number taken in recent weeks is upwards of 400.

"The original number was 163," explained Mr Barker, "but far more have been taken since the start of April. Sheep have been being stolen from my flock for years, the police know about it and we believe we know who is doing it, but it's catching them that is the problem."

Mr Barker continued: "They are not opportunist thieves taking what they can get, these are thieves that know good stock. They target the best of my breeding stock and in this instance it is not only the value of the ewes that is the issue, but also the value of the lambs we know they are carrying.

"There are undoubtedly some good tup lambs inside those ewes, and that's breeding stock that is very difficult to replace, or even put an accurate value on. Those kinds of losses can effect a flock for many, many years to come, both from the point of view of stock to sell and stock to keep as replacements within our existing flock."

Three years ago, in April 2016, Mr Barker reported the theft of 560 Cheviot ewes, reportedly worth around £60,000, although these sheep were eventually located. However, in August of the same year more sheep were reported to police as being missing from Capplegill Farm and those animals were never found.

Mr Barker believes that those involved are very experienced rustlers that know the area very well and that have excellent dogs with them to be able to round up the sheep stock so efficiently.

He said: "They basically come and take trailer loads, so they know exactly what they are doing and the best way to do it. I moved one of my best tup lambs to a part of the farm I thought he would be safe, but they still got him there. It is incredibly difficult to combat.

"Summer time and into the Autumn months are the worst for stock to consistently be disappearing but to be honest, it has been happening all year round."

Police are appealing for anyone who may have been in the area around Capplegill on the A708 road north of Moffat to get in touch if they saw or heard anything which might help clarify the situation regarding the sheep. The farm is around six miles from the town of Moffat.