The UK sheep sector is at risk of being permanently forced to live with the devastating consequences of dog attacks, the National Sheep Association (NSA) believes.
The NSA’s annual survey into the issue reveals farmers fear the threat of sheep worrying affecting their flocks on a regular basis.
In the survey of more than 300 sheep farmers, 70% had experienced a sheep worrying attack in the past 12 months, with 95% of respondents experiencing up to 10 cases per year. On average three sheep deaths were reported each year due to a dog attack. This does not take into account production losses in sheep, including miscarriage, that were reported by almost 70% of respondents.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said: “One of the most concerning threats to sheep welfare, worrying by dogs, continues to be swept under the carpet. It seems to be an area where resolution is too difficult a challenge to tackle and so, attacks continue with little consequence to those at fault.
“There is a real concern amongst sheep farmers that the situation is spiralling out of control and becoming the norm. As reported in the NSA survey, farmers are taking what steps they can to protect their flocks including displaying signs, moving sheep to areas with less public access and working with communities via social media but unfortunately these actions are having little impact in improving the number of sheep worrying incidents.”
In addition, 82% of survey respondents strongly agreed that additional powers are necessary to act as a deterrent. Increased powers and fines proposed in the new Kept Animals Bill are welcomed, but NSA has concerns they will not be strong enough to have a serious impact.
Stocker added: “The Kept Animals Bill is well behind schedule which is frustrating on one hand but I still don’t believe it is fit for purpose, still not requiring dogs to be on leads when in fields with sheep and suggesting maximum fines for those found guilty being limited to £1,000 in England. This compares to a recent change of legislation in Scotland that has seen the same crime punishable with up to a £40,000 fine or prison sentence. This disparity must be addressed. A lack of punishment and continued varied responses from Police Rural Crime teams is frustrating farmers who are experiencing great upset as well as financial loss because of this issue.”
The latest survey results are released by NSA ahead of its Sheep Worrying by Dogs campaign week that will launch on 3 April. This annual campaign aims to highlight this terrible issue and is timed as sheep farmers face their busiest but also most vulnerable time.
NSA Communications Manager, Katie James, said: “Many will not realise the threat to sheep flocks from dogs walking off the lead. Even the most highly trained pet dog can follow its instincts and chase livestock. To some this may appear like play but to a prey animal such as a sheep it is highly stressful and can have a devastating effect. With fields now full of young lambs and heavily pregnant ewes there is a heightened risk of mismothering and miscarriage due to stress, as well as from any physical injuries encountered.”