FARMERS are being urged to be vigilant following an increase in sheep thefts.
Last year around 250 were taken from hillsides at Alves, Ballindalloch and Cabrach compared to no reported thefts in the area during 2012.
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead is concerned about the rise after the issue was raised by a constituent.
He said: "The increase in sheep thefts is a worrying trend throughout Scotland with the value of sheep being stolen running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
"Police Scotland recognises that it is a national problem that has a serious impact on farming communities and has undertaken to ensure each case is investigated thoroughly, while the Scottish SPCA has also expressed concerns for the welfare of sheep involved in these thefts.
"I urge people living in our rural communities to be aware of this increasing trend and to report any suspicious activity they see to the police."
Chief Inspector Willie Findlay said the crimes had been carried out over a lengthy period of time, and when livestock was grazing on upland slopes it was often difficult for farmers to keep track of their sheep.
He added: "Sheep are tagged for the food chain but the tags are not infallible.
"They can be chipped but that’s expensive. There’s no doubts that sheep are going missing.
"I would ask people from the local community in rural areas, if they’re seeing something that’s out of the ordinary to phone it in.
"They know the areas better than anybody and they’ll know if sheep are being picked up at unusual times.
"It means the police will investigate and if there’s nothing untoward there’s no harm done.
"One of these phone calls will be for something genuinely suspicious.
"I suspect people in the farming community may have information on where the sheep may be going and I would urge them to pass information on to the police."
Police Scotland can be contacted on 101.