19 January 2021

How Your Lockdown Exercise Threatens the Farming Community

Whilst we are restricted to staying local, most are taking the opportunity to get back to nature and visit England’s green and pleasant countryside as a safe, open, public space.

However, most people remain unaware of the harm dogs can inflict on livestock, or indeed their legal responsibility to keep dogs under control and on a lead whilst in a field.

It is more important now than ever for dog owners to be aware that to have a dog off lead in a field is a criminal act, following updated government guidance allowing dog walkers to exercise their pets more than once a day during this lockdown.

“He’s only playing” or “He won’t harm them” are common phrases used by dog owners walking their dogs off lead, however the mere presence of the off-lead dog can be devastating, even if the dog does not catch the livestock, the stress can still cause death or miscarriage in pregnant animals, resulting in huge financial losses to farmers who are already fighting to find their way in a post Brexit England.

Attacks on livestock are causing increasing alarm. The number of occurrences are soaring with the increase in people enjoying their exercise in the countryside.

A 2020 survey by The National Sheep Association found that 94.85% of respondents had experience of sheep worrying on their farm and are urging dog owners to take responsibility to keep their pets under control.

What laws protect your livestock?

The current protection comes from the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. 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. However, many people seem unaware that it is also an offence to have a dog off lead in a field containing livestock.

The current legislation is considered by many to be outdated and fails to protect farmers and livestock, with the maximum fine for an offence being £1000. If there is evidence of the dog’s involvement, then a court can order the animal be put down, however there is nothing explicit within the Act to compensate for the loss of livestock nor to compel the owner to even report an attack.

Whilst the definition of livestock under the current Act is wide-reaching including sheep, cows, goats, horses, asses, mules, turkeys and ducks, it is noted that exotic breads such as llamas, alpacas and ostriches remain unprotected.

The National Sheep Association is now calling for responsible dog owners and the farming community to unite in the prevention of such attacks – while others are looking at an awareness campaign and urging for a tightening of the law.

For advice or an informal chat, Sarah Parker can be contacted on 01482 398389 or by email: sarah.parker@wilkinchapman.co.uk

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