Shepherds in the Yorkshire Dales are facing a twin threat to their pre-Christmas flocks – from the Arctic weather and a sudden boom in sheep rustling.
With the weather showing no sign of easing, hard-pressed hill farmers are battling to get emergency feed their stock or rescue others trapped in deep drifts.
With winter set in so early, older farmers remember with dismay the horrific winter 1946-47, when an estimate 50,000 sheep died in the Dales.
But another threat emerged on the horizon this weekend when NFU Mutual, the union’s insurance arm, reported that sheep rustling had soared five-fold in the past 18 months compared to a decade ago.
The union blames the recession for the increase but there is another factor at play: with Christmas spread over a long weekend, many families are planning to buy a joint of lamb to go along with the traditional turkey, thus boosting demand.
There is, however, one unexpected benefit: because weather conditions are so bad, rustlers can’t get to the fields in more remote areas of the Dales.