01 March 2023

As Spring is approaching, many of the sheep grazing the local countryside are heavily pregnant. At this time of year, many flocks are either lambing or are in lamb, making them easy targets for worrying and injury. It is appreciated that many people like to walk their dogs in the countryside, but it is vital that dogs are kept on a lead and under close control when around livestock, to prevent the suffering of animals, and the heartache, distress and financial loss to farmers.

According to NFU, in 2021, 64% of dog owners let their dogs roam freely on agricultural land, contributing to the £1.3 million costs of dog attacks on livestock in the UK. It is important that both dog owners and farmers/landowners are mindful of their rights and responsibilities.

The legal definition of livestock worrying is defined as when a dog attacks or chases livestock on agricultural land or is at large in a field with livestock, which can result in significant injury or suffering and in worst cases, death of the animals involved.

It is imperative to note that a dog doesn’t have to physically attack the sheep to cause loss of life – stress brought upon a pregnant ewe can cause her to abort her unborn lambs. Panicked sheep can be killed or badly injured in a desperate attempt to escape, and the mismothering of newly born lambs can cause them to die of starvation or hypothermia.

Under the Dogs Protection of Livestock Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on farmland, the owner or the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence; the maximum penalty being a fine of up to £1000.

In June 2021, the Government introduced new measurers though the Kept Animals Bill, intending to crack down on livestock worrying. The type of livestock included within the law will be extended to include animals such as farmed deer, llamas and donkeys. The Police will have more power to seize dogs after serious incidents, if the dog is seen as an ongoing risk, and as part of the investigation, they will also have the power to take samples from the livestock and dogs, to help to support the prosecution. The Bill is now at the report stage in the House of Commons.

Until new laws are passed to provide farmers and their livestock more protection, it is important for farmers and landowners to know what they should do if they are confronted by this distressing situation.

What should you do?

  • Stop the attack. If you are not able to do so, record the incident on your phone.
  • If possible, catch the perpetrators. If you cannot catch the dog(s) make a note of what they looked like, whether they wore a collar, etc, & the direction they left the field
  • If the dog owner is present, make a note of their details and that of any witnesses.
  • Take photographs/videos of damage to fences, sheep or dead sheep and pass onto the police.
  • Provide evidence of abortion, shock or death from being chased.
  • Keep a note of any vet bills.
  • Note the amount of time it is taking for you to sort the issue out (time is money)
  • Note the disposal of carcass costs.
  • Make a note of how you fell emotionally either on paper or record it on your phone (this is evidence too if it is having a detrimental effect on the quality of your life)

Report the incident to the police – don’t take the law into your own hands, or you could find yourself in serious difficulties. Shooting a dog may land you with civil proceedings, under The Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it a criminal offence to cause unnecessary suffering to animals.

The best way to avoid the potential risk from dogs trespassing on your land is to try and prevent it from happening. Farmers, landowners and owners should consider taking the following steps to prevent an incident from occurring:

  • If your land is close to a public right of way, ensure that you have adequate signage telling owners to keep their dogs on leads whilst passing through/over your land. It is worth noting that having signage in place warning of sheep will avoid the dog owner from saying ‘the sheep were not normally in the field and therefore this was exceptional circumstances that the owner of the dog was not aware’.
  • Ensure that your boundary fences are adequate to deter accidental trespassing.
  • If possible, keep in-lamb or newly lambed ewes away from a public right of way. Likewise, consider placing creep/hay feeders away from public footpaths.