A Beaminster policeman’s rural crime initiative to combat rustling is now on the political agenda.

It comes as farmers have reported more animal thefts and the NFU says there has been a significant increase in the last 18 months, including a ewe and two lambs from Beaminster last Thursday and in the past more than 100 from a Mapperton farmer, as well as significant numbers from farms in both Wareham and Sturminster Newton.

PC Tim Poole has already had considerable success – and recognition – for his Stop That Thief rural crime prevention scheme and hopes his ‘Stop that Sheep’ initiative will be equally effective.

PC Poole said his Stop that Thief scheme targets what is known as ‘deadstock’ on farms – farm machinery, tools and equipment, but Stop that Sheep was aimed at deterring and detecting livestock thefts.

He said: “I have been trying to get in running for the last three years but it is still in its infancy despite that.

“I have been pushing the snowball uphill but now there is a big political will on the part of the Police and Crime and Crime Commission and senior Dorset police officers to progress it.”

PC Poole said they were exploring a range of methods to reduce rustling – including a DNA data base and improved data collection to make sure more specific questions were asked of victims, including breeds and ages to better determine where the animals might be taken.

He said there would a multi-agency approach and high level talks were already underway with the Food Standards agency and trading standards.

He added: “We do know illegal abattoirs have existed. Clearly the food industry is interested because they won’t be adhering to food hygiene standards and the Food Standards Agency is very concerned about the potential for things getting into the food chain that shouldn’t be.”

He is also liaising with other police forces.

He added: “Stop that Sheep is also trying to establish the true extent of the problem. The rural population has long known that sheep are being stolen but it’s not really been recognised on a national basis.

“I am pleased it is now being taken seriously.”

West Dorset NFU secretary Paul Bennett said the NFU was working with police on the scheme.

He said: “It is good the police are trying to make it more of a national thing because sheep that are stolen here will very rarely be dealt with here.

“Technically there is nothing that you can do with a stolen animal – you have to have an illegal outlet because there is so much paperwork and there is so much bureaucracy that laundering sheep is not like laundering money.

“Partly the police scheme came about because rustling is on the increase at the moment.

“Four or five years ago we saw a bit of it but we have heard more in the last 18 months than we have in the last seven years.”