​“A mans best friend” threatens the farming community.

09 April 2018

In the headlines recently we have seen a call for dog owners and the farming community to unite in the prevention of attacks on farmers livestock.

In the headlines recently we have seen the National Sheep Association call for dog owners and the farming community to unite in the prevention of attacks on livestock following the release of a report into livestock worrying by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

With the number of public footpaths which now run through farmland it is no shock that we have also seen an increase in walkers enjoying the country side together with “man’s best friend.” However the majority of the public are unaware of the harm their dogs can cause to livestock.

With the nights getting lighter and UK holidays more popular than ever it is important to get the word out that dog owners need to help protect their farming industry by keeping their dogs on a lead and under control at all times.

North Yorkshire Police reported 329 cases of livestock worrying between September 2013 and August 2017, these involved the death of 280 animals, injury to 292 animals and 16 dogs were shot during the attacks. Worryingly, in 79% of the attacks the owner was not present.

The cost to farmers is enormous with many attacks being left unreported, particularly in cases where dog involved cannot be identified. NFU Mutual estimated the cost to farmers across the North East and Yorkshire in 2017 to be £155,000 from lost or injured livestock.

Attacks on livestock are devastating to all parties involved. Even if the dog chases, but does not catch livestock, the stress can cause sheep to die and pregnant ewes to miscarry their lambs. If there is evidence of the dogs involvement in the attacks then a court can order the animal to be destroyed, if it has not been shot during the attack by the farmer. It is a dogs natural instinct to chase but it is clearly a dog owner’s responsibility to control that natural instinct.

Not only is there a call for public awareness but also an update in the law. The current protection comes from the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, which is considered to be outdated and fails to protect farmers and their livestock. The maximum fine for an offence is £1000, although it is likely a court would award the farmer for the loss of the livestock there is nothing explicit within this Act.

Under Section 1(2) of the Act it is an offence to attack or chase livestock in such a way as to cause injury or suffering. It is also an offence to have a dog off lead in a field where there are livestock but many dog owners across the country seem unaware of this statutory provision.

Whilst the definition of livestock under the Act is quite wide reaching and includes sheep, cows, goats, horses, asses, mules, turkeys and ducks, exotic breads such as llamas, alpacas and ostriches are left unprotected.

There is no requirement to report if your dog has attacked or worried livestock. As such, unless witnessed there is normally little evidence to be able to prove an offence has occurred, even if the farmer speaks to the owner they suspect of the attack the owners often deny any knowledge. Although some farmers are now installing CCTV in an attempt to deter attacks and obtain evidence.

It is clear that the current legislation is disconnected from the science and technology we have today. If the dogs can be linked to the attacks through their DNA and there is a right to obtain evidence from dogs suspected of attacking livestock, then repeat attacks can be reduced. In North Yorkshire the Police reported that 20% of the attacks were carried out by a dog that had attacked previously; this highlights the importance of the Act being updated so that evidence can be obtained. In addition, the Act can be further strengthened by making it an offence for failing to report an attack, increasing the range and level of fines and also strengthening the rights of farmers to receive full and proper compensation for losses suffered from those dog owners who have allowed their dogs to attack livestock.

Urgent changes are needed to the Act and the public need to be educated as to the need to keep their dogs under control at all times when walking on land near livestock. You can get involved in bringing about a change in the law by writing to your local MP.

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