Police plans to seize dogs which attack livestock should go further, say livestock leaders.
Stricter measures to crack down on sheep worrying were confirmed by the government last month. The new proposals will come into effect once the Kept Animals Bill has passed through parliament.
The National Sheep Association said it welcomed the strengthened legislation. But it said the additional police powers to seize dogs should have been further backed up by a big increase in the maximum fines imposed.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “This was an opportunity to create a major deterrent to this antisocial behaviour by substantially increasing the maximum applicable fine alongside more proactive measures to prevent attacks occurring.”
‘Missing a trick’
Mr Stocker said Defra and other government ministers responsible for English legislation were “missing a trick” by failing to take the opportunity to increase fines in line with those imposed in Scotland.
Legislation which received royal asset earlier this year mean people who fail to keep close control of their dogs in Scotland face a year-long jail sentence, a fine of up to £40,000 – or possibly both.
But a person who commits a similar offence in England under the new animal welfare legislation is liable only to a summary conviction and a fine not exceeding Level 3 on the standard scale – currently £1000.
Mr Stocker said the English bill was welcome but contained little that would reduce the number of dog attacks. “In fact, the lack of clarity in defining ‘under close control’ puts farmers and dog owners in a difficult, potentially conflicting position.”
Recent reports of out-of-control dogs causing harm to livestock including a cow being chased over an embankment to its death; and an MP being fined for his dog chasing deer in Richmond Park, London.
The rising number of incidents had come with increased dog ownership and more people using farmland for leisure, said Mr Stocker. The NSA’s own survey also revealed a concerning increase in dog attacks on sheep over the past year.
These incidents all pointed to an urgent need for simple, straightforward an effective measures to radically reduce the number of cases, said Mr Stocker. It should be a legal requirement for non-working dogs to be on a lead near livestock.
Defra’s proposed legislation includes plans for a maximum five-year prison sentence and unlimited fines for animal cruelty. Mr Stocker said he looked forward to working with Defra to improve responsible dog ownership.
The injury and stress involved when sheep and other livestock were attacked resulted in serious animal cruelty and should therefore be subject to similar maximum penalties and deterrents, he added.
While the NSA would like to see legislation strengthened beyond what appears to be proposed it will also continue to campaign to improve attitudes to responsible dog ownership, to protect its members’ livelihoods and reduce stress and anxiety.
Traumatic incidents ‘on the rise’
More than two thirds of the UK’s sheep farmers responding to a recent survey have experienced an increase in sheep worrying attacks by dogs during the past year.
The troubling statistic is part of a concerning set of findings released by the National Sheep Association (NSA) from its recent farmer’s survey assessing the incidence and impact of sheep worrying by dog attacks.
The NSA received a record-breaking response for its 2021 survey specifically aimed at farmers who had experienced dog attacks in the past year. The increase in contributions indicates the scale of the serious problem.
On average, each respondent to the survey experienced seven cases of sheep worrying during the past year. Each attack typically resulted in five sheep being injured and two sheep killed.
Estimated financial losses through incidents of sheep worrying of up to £50,000 were recorded, with an average across all respondents of £1570. But most respondents received no or very little compensation.
But in addition to the threat to animal welfare and the farmer’s income perhaps the most concerning finding to be taken from the survey is the effect the issue is having on the mental wellbeing of sheep farmers.
Farmers completing the survey reported feelings of anxiety, anger, upset, stress and frustration as a result of sheep worrying by dog attacks with more than half recognising that this was causing a moderate to severe impact on their mental health.