A FLOCK of 65 sheep and goats, believed to have been stolen from around North Yorkshire, has been found by police.

North Yorkshire Police said they want to help find the owners of the animals, who were discovered on land in the Hambleton area and had been placed in a field unknown to the landowner.

Inspector Jonathan Grainge, of the force's Rural Taskforce, said: "Over recent years North Yorkshire Police and surrounding rural forces have taken an increasing number of reports relating to the theft of sheep from farms across the North of England. Work done by North Yorkshire Police’s new Rural Taskforce has been focusing on this problem, and has identified that sheep have been stolen, often in ones and twos, sometimes in trailer-loads. Some will be destined almost immediately for the illegal meat trade, whilst others are ‘hidden’ in open view in fields and barns across a wide geographic area.

"The difficulty with the nature of this crime is that it is not necessarily immediately obvious to farmers who may only be able to identify their shortfall at the time of bringing sheep in to scan or to worm, which often gives a very wide timeframe for us to work with. Lines of enquiry are limited, and this is where we need the public’s help to call in suspicious movements of animals, or animals appearing in fields unexpectedly."

A 54-year-old man from Middlesbrough was arrested at the scene on suspicion of theft and possession of cannabis, and was later released on bail.

Police want to hear from anyone who may be able to help identify the owners of the livestock, or who has had sheep or goats stolen since lambing 2016.

Anyone with information should email RuralTaskForce@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk, giving all possible information to assist with identification.

Insp Grainge said: "There are likely to be many similar fields across North Yorkshire and further afield. If you have noticed anything unusual, a different person attending a flock or offers of sheep or goats for sale either for meat or as stores, please also contact us.

"If you are able to get any names, vehicle details, and registrations or even partial registrations we would like to know. If you see something that you think is suspicious or out of place, and is actually ongoing, please also call it in to the police on 101 or 999."