Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Dog attacks on sheep 10 times worse than feared, figures show

New figures in the UK show that dog attacks on sheep are more common than first thought.

Both farmers and dog owners must be clear on their rights.
Both farmers and dog owners must be clear on their rights.

Henry Bodkin

It is a familiar pastoral scene - a family taking the dog out for a long walk in the countryside.

But the practice is leading to an increasing number of attacks on sheep by dogs whose owners are ignorant of the risk to livestock.

The problem has become so serious that a farming group has commissioned a report based on police statistics to understand for the first time the true scale of sheep deaths in the UK.

Government officials and senior police officers were presented this week with findings indicating that around 15,000 sheep were killed by loose dogs in 2016, more than ten times higher than the number previously thought.

Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Photo: Lorraine Teevan

In response, the National Police Chief Council have agreed to set up a group to investigate how well regional forces react to complaints of dog attacks.

An expert advisor to the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Professor Tim Morris, told the Telegraph that the report may even underestimate the scale of the problem.

Professor Morris said attacks were being allowed to continue partly because in large parts of the country police have no grasp of the issue and routinely fail to follow up complaints.

He added that “many forces simply don’t understand the legal powers they have", adding that many dog owners were “deluded” about their pets and “grossly underestimate” the damage they can do.

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Experts and campaigners say the problem is being compounded by bans or restrictions placed on dogs in more than 3,300 parks and open spaces over the last two years forcing their owners to take them into the countryside more frequently.

Last month the Kennel Club called for legislation forcing planning authorities to explicitly consider the impact on dog walking before nodding through new schemes which include such bans.

Gus Martyn disposes of the slaughtered ewes and lambs. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
Gus Martyn disposes of the slaughtered ewes and lambs. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

Terena Plowright, a Hampshire farmer and founder of SheepWatch UK, who called for more prosecutions to deter irresponsible owners, said: “More people are being forced into the countryside on a daily basis and that is what is pushing up the numbers of attacks.”

Sheep attacks are devastating for farmers, who lose the value of the livestock killed and future earnings from those animals and their offspring, as well as having to pay for the carcasses to be removed.

Attacks on sheep by dogs were forcing some farmers out of business while others are having to sleep rough with their flocks to protect them, SheepWatch UK said.

It Is an offence to allow a dog to worry sheep – which includes both attacking and chasing them.

Dog Wardens Aisling Byrne of the Carlow branch and Michael Morrissey of Kilkenny Branch inspect the recent sheep kill near Goresbridge. Photo: Roger Jones.
Dog Wardens Aisling Byrne of the Carlow branch and Michael Morrissey of Kilkenny Branch inspect the recent sheep kill near Goresbridge. Photo: Roger Jones.

In some circumstances farmers are legally allowed to shoot dogs if they are endangering their sheep as long as they have lawful excuse.

Last July a Labrador was shot by a farmer after it escaped from its owner and attacked a lamb in Llanllyfni in Gwynedd, North Wales.

Sergeant Rob Taylor from the rural crime team said: “I feel like a stuck record. People are not listening, ending up in court and getting fines, and dogs are being destroyed.”

Herefordshire farmer Tom Hadley lost all 56 of the sheep and lambs in his flock after two bull mastiffs enjoyed a seven-hour rampage in their field in September.

The incident forced the 24-year-old to give up sheep farming and cost him more than £25,000.

Mr Hadley told The Telegraph: “It was soul destroying. We were finding dead lambs torn to bits, stuck in fences and drowned in the river for days after. Any dog is capable of doing it - it’s a game to them.”

North Wales police is currently the only force which achieves close to full reporting of dog attacks on sheep. Sheepwatch extrapolated the figures from that region for 2016 to estimate that 15,000 sheep were killed across the UK. The National Police Chief’s Council has now formed a new group which will investigate how well each of England and Wales’s police forces deals with dog attacks on sheep.

Telegraph.co.uk