FOURTEEN stolen pregnant ewes have been safely returned to their Cumbrian farm thanks to a high-tech marking system.

Pip Simpson, whose farm is at Troutbeck near Windermere, has been a victim of previous livestock thefts.

He turned to a tracing system to help protect his flock from criminals targeting isolated farms across the county.

TecTracer, a forensic sheep tracing system developed by John Minary, a former senior police detective, and a Swedish ballistics expert ingrains coded markers into a sheep’s fleece,“marking” them with a unique identifying code which makes it easy to trace which farm the sheep originated from.

Together with signs advertising the TecTracer identification process positioned around farm buildings and fields – and combined with an e-alert early warning system linked to the police, farms, abattoirs and auction houses – the system has been dubbed “Operation Bo Beep!”.

It is now being used by many farmers across the North of England as the front line in crime prevention.

As soon as Mr Simpson discovered the loss of the 14 ewes, worth £2,500, he alerted the tracing team who swung into action. The sheep were soon returned under cover of darkness, but to a different field.

Mr Minary said: “Over the years, Pip has been one of the many victims of rural crime, having his livestock stolen by targeted criminals.

“The financial anxiety of having his sheep stolen led him to take extreme measures, including dying his entire flock orange. "This, however, was only a temporary solution, as the dye soon came out resulting in Pip turning to TecTracer.

“In this case, the thieves clearly realised soon after taking the ewes that with our network of contacts from police to local farms, paired with the unique marking and the social media coverage, the only option was to return the ewes."