Posted On / 18.03.2020

Sheep worrying and the Law

It is a sad fact that reports of dogs worrying and injuring sheep are becoming more and more frequent.  It is claimed that approximately 15,000 sheep are killed each year by pet dogs being let off the lead in or around sheep. 

It is a misconception of many dog owners that injury has not occurred as their dog has only chased the sheep and has not caused visual injury.   Injury need not be visible.  Worrying of sheep can lead to death by exhaustion and in-lamb ewes can also abort.  Dogs owners need to be educated as to the consequences of letting their dogs off the lead in or around sheep.

At this time of year many ewes on farms are either lambing or are in lamb making them easy targets for worrying and injury.  It is important for farmers, landowners and owners 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 mobile 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.  Note 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 on to 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 (time is money) for you to sort the issue out.
  • Disposal of carcass costs.
  • Make a note of how you feel 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 on the wrong side of the fence.

Prevention is better than Cure

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.

What legal protection is there?

Many dog owners are unaware that it is a criminal offence to allow their dog to worry sheep on agricultural land.  Most criminal prosecutions are bought by the police but it is worth noting that farmers, landowners and owners may bring proceedings against the dog owner following an attack.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 (“1953 Act”) says that if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the owner and/or the person in charge of the dog is guilty of a criminal offence.  Under the 1953 Act the term ‘ worrying’ includes attacking livestock; chasing livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to livestock – this can also include abortion or being at large in a field containing sheep.

Furthermore, the 1953 Act enables criminal proceedings to be bought by the police, farmers and owners where there is sufficient evidence to do so. 

The Animals Act 1971 provides that where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock, any person who is a keeper of the dog is liable for the damage.  There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and that is why evidence of worrying / injury is so important.    

A criminal prosecution may also prove successful under the Criminal Damage Act 1971.  A person who, without lawful excuse, destroys or damages property belonging to another, intending to destroy or damage any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence.  Clearly a dog attack on a flock of sheep is damaging property belonging to another.  Evidence would need to show that the person trying to stop the damage continuing was in fear for his or her own safety by attack of the dog.

It is also worth noting what whilst farmers, landowners and owners are protected under the law, so are dog owners.  If you do anything which may cause destress, injury or even death to a dog without lawful excuse to do so then you may find yourself ending up in court. 

For more information please contact Tracy Neal FCILEx  on 01935 846076 tracy.neal@battens.co.uk We are able to offer telephone and videoconference meetings to take instructions regarding any legal matter.

More agriculture and rural related articles here.