11,000 NI cattle stolen in just three years
Almost 11,000 cattle have been reported either as lost or stolen in Northern Ireland over the last three years, it has been revealed.
In 2016 the number of cattle lost or stolen was 3,217, while in 2017 that rose to 3,700 and in 2018 the figures reached 3,838, according to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann sourced the figures following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the department.
The divisional veterinary area with the highest thefts over the three years was Armagh with 1,816, with Newry sitting second after 1,697 reports. The figures come after an NFU Mutual report revealed that rural crime cost almost £2.8m last year.
Mr Swann warned that organised crime gangs are becoming increasingly involved in cattle rustling.
The North Antrim MLA added that he was "shocked" when he received the figures following his FoI request.
"Cattle rustling is nothing new to Northern Ireland but the problem is evidently getting worse," said Mr Swann.
"It angers me when farmers contact my office after they've had cattle stolen.
"Many of those being lifted are quality animals that have been specifically bred and reared on the farm and are worth considerable sums of money, only to end up being stolen by cowardly thieves operating under the cover of darkness."
Mr Swann said he suspects that cattle are being "stolen to order" as their tags are changed before being smuggled across the border with fake documentation.