POLICE are warning livestock owners to be on their guard against sheep rustlers after 20 animals were stolen in Withiel.
Officers say organised gangs are again targeting the area, after a spate of sheep thefts were committed last year within a ten-mile radius of Bodmin.
The latest farmer to lose livestock is David Harris, who keeps 300 sheep on land in the Withiel parish.
Thieves stole 20 of his sheep from two fields which he estimated to be worth £3,200 at market.
Mr Harris said: "We check the sheep twice a day, but it is impossible to count every one of them, but now we will certainly be improving security in the future.
"As well as losing these sheep, you have to take into account the 30 or 40 lambs they would have produced, so you are talking about quite a few thousand pounds – it's a big loss."
Mr Harris, 65, has kept sheep for more than 25 years, and says it is the first time any of his livestock have been stolen.
"I suspect they have been taken upcountry and slaughtered at a private abattoir because they were all tagged and a licensed slaughterhouse wouldn't have had anything to do with them."
Mr Harris said he had alerted other farmers in the area about the theft from his land and they are taking extra precautions.
Bodmin rural area police community support officer Lloyd Paynter said there had been a number of rustling incidents reported last year.
"We have had cases in Helland, St Breward, Blisland and Castle-in-Dinas over the past 12 months, and now it is happening in the area again," he said.
"These sheep rustlers are very organised and use lorries, or in the case of Mr Harris's loss, it could have been a large pick-up.
"I would appeal to anyone who drives through rural areas to report suspicious activity near livestock to the police immediately," he said.
The theft of sheep at Withiel was discovered on October 11, but could have occurred weeks earlier.
Anyone with information about that incident should contact police on 101, quoting reference BB/12/1516.