Since September, farmers have reported 24 raids in which a total of 60 sheep have been rustled by gangs, some of whom use hunting dogs.
'These people are plain bloody vandals and thieves,' Richard Russell, group secretary of the National Farmers' Union in west Nottinghamshire, said. 'There are people in need in this area - what with the pits closing - but for those who are in work there is plenty of money.'
He said the teams of rustlers were brutal, calculating and highly organised. Any notion of sheep stealers as people on the dole searching the countryside for their next meal was 'pure romanticism'.
'These people use lurchers. The dog jumps at the animal's throat. Sometimes they miss and get the back leg. A team of men approaches, slits the sheep's throat, slits the stomach, removes the innards - sometimes they bury them - then they transport the carcass away in an old van. Sometimes they take half a dozen sheep in a night.'
He said the carcasses fetched about pounds 25 each on the black market.
Detective Inspector Peter Jones, in charge of the investigation, said: 'There are a number of people who are regular poachers in the area. We know who they are - some have been up in court - but at this stage we can only link their names to the incidents. We have no hard evidence.'Reuse content