FG Exclusive Sheep Worrying Report

Sheep worrying costs farming £1m annually

There were nearly 700 reported cases of sheep worrying by dogs in 2011, a Farmers Guardian special investigation has revealed.

Figures from police forces around the UK show the huge scale of the problem, with rural insurer NFU Mutual estimating the cost to farmers at £1 million a year.

Statistics obtained by FG under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show there were 691 incidents of sheep worrying by dogs last year. In many of these cases sheep were attacked, injured or killed.

The growing problem of sheep worrying has already led the National Sheep Association (NSA) to launch a dedicated helpline in a bid to track the hotspot areas. It received 100 calls in the first three weeks.

FGsent FOI requests to all the police forces in the UK and asked them to provide information on dog attacks from January 1 to December 31, 2011.

Out of the 32 forces which answered the request, Devon and Cornwall had the highest number of incidents with 79, Sussex had 68 and North Wales saw 40.

NFU Mutual rural affairs spokesman Tim Price said FG’s findings should act as a wake-up call to dog owners.

He said: “NFU Mutual deals with horrific claims for sheep - and sometimes cattle - which have been severely injured or killed by dogs.

“Attacks typically involve one or two sheep being injured or killed, but we also see attacks where 20 or more have had to be put down due to severe injuries caused by dog attacks.

“Even if dogs don’t physically attack livestock, chasing them can cause pregnant cows and sheep to abort or lead to panicked stock becoming tangled in fences.”

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said people often had an issue keeping their dogs on footpaths, while the chairman of NFU Cymru’s rural affairs board Bernard Llewellyn, who farms beef and sheep in Carmarthenshire, agreed owners had to be more responsible.

“Our farmland is our factory floor, not an exercise area for dogs,” added Mr Llewellyn.

Walking charity Ramblers said it had teamed up with the NFU and the Kennel Club to offer advice to its 120,000 members to keep them and livestock safe during busy walking periods.

But the RSPCA said it was down to owners to control their pets.

A spokesman said: “The countryside is the farmers’ workplace and the livestock are their property and assets. People should respect that and take appropriate measures instead of letting their dogs off the lead and allowing them to run wild.”

Several farmers have spoken to FG about their own sheep being attacked, with one Cornish farmer describing the aftermath of one attack as being like ‘a warzone with bodies scattered everywhere’.

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Sheep worrying by dogs is a nationwide problem

  • In Wales Dyfed-Powys police have urged dog owners to keep their animals under proper control if they are in rural areas, following several incidents of dogs killing or worrying sheep in Pembrokeshire. The police say 15 sheep have been killed and many more injured by dogs in the Boncath area of Pembrokeshire.
  • In Dorset a farmer called for owners to control their sheep after one of his sheep had its belly ripped open and another died after being bitten in the throat.
  • On the Isle of Man the Department of Agriculture has warned dog owners of the serious dangers of allowing dogs off leads on the Department’s hill lands and near farmland. There had been incidents of sheep worrying in the south of the island and of dog owners allowing pets to roam onto adjacent land while walking in plantations.
  • In the Republic of Ireland farmers have warned people to lock up their dogs at night to prevent savage injuries particularly during the next three months when 2.5 million lambs are due to be born. The Irish Farmers Association launched an advertising campaign warning dog owners of their responsibilities.
  • In Sussex, 19-year-old sheep farmer Luke Smith was left questioning his future in the industry after a series of dog attacks on his sheep, which left 10 sheep injured and one killed.
  • In Surrey, five sheep were killed and four others injured in two dog attacks in the space of a week near Walton-on-the-Hill.

The Ramblers have issued the following advice to members:

Do

  • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
  • Be prepared for cattle to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
  • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
  • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep

Don’t

  • Don’t hang onto your dog. If you are threatened by cattle - let it go as the cattle will chase the dog.
  • Don’t put yourself at risk. Find another way round the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
  • Don’t panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow just walk on quietly.

Readers' comments (6)

  • I agree that dog worrying is a serious problem, owners have the leads with them but fail to put them on the dog. A lot of dogs are not trained correctly and the owners have no proper control over their pets. I have seen balls thrown for dogs into the middle of pregnant ewes. Clearly not much going on between the ears there!!

    Another serious problem is the dog muck. Our fields are being used as dog toilets by people who are either ignorant or don't care. On summer days some footpaths stink with the smell of dog muck, it's really vile.

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  • Easy, all dogs should be on a lead in public places and all dogs must have a micro chip. I as a farmer are sick of telling folk to put a dog on the lead just to hear the same crap "my dog is good and is frightend of sheep" but when i tell them ill shoot it its on a lead quick.
    as for the muck, it should be picked up same as on the street or a fine of £1000 should be given.

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  • By changing the Country Code to state "ALL DOGS MUST BE ON A LEAD AT ALL TIMES" .. At the moment it reads "under control". simply not enough. Valerie Honeyfield

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  • Sir, dogs are kept on a lead on the road so why not in the fields, farmers need to put up signs at the start of paths/walkways stating any dog seen that is not on a lead WILL BE SHOT, after a one dog is killed the problem will stop in that area, it's the only way, if they want to let the dog off the lead take it to a park.

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  • we live on the edge of a village and agree dogs should not even be on farmland when stock is calfing or lambing have they no sence of the danger or Farmers livelyhood sheep and cows don't know they are not going to chase them they just run like hell,

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  • I live in South London and I cannot use the parks due to terrifying unreported dog attacks on users. I spend a lot of time walking in Sussex and fully understand about livestock but again I have encountered threatening dogs (and owners). I do not understand why a dog is allowed in a field with livestock even if it is on the lead and I believe the right to roam legislation has exacerbated the problem.

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