For the first time ever, the number of sheep killed by dogs has been recorded in one place, and the total number is shocking. The numbers released recently by SheepWatchUK showed that more that 1600 sheep, 800 unborn lambs were killed by dogs in 2016, with many more injured. The scale of the problem is further shown by the fact that 49 dogs had to be shot by farmers whilst attacking sheep in 2016, and with a huge sum of over a million pound cost to the farming industry. Next month (February) has proved to be the worst time for dog attacks as the sheep are lambing and highly vulnerable.
Terena attands a Meeting hosted by DEFRA
Terena has taken the figures to a meeting in London hosted by DEFRA who are anxious that existing laws are used but want to support further evidence gathering in a pilot study. Also attending the meeting were North Wales Police Rural Crime Unit, Hertfordshire Police Rural Crime, and North Yorkshire Police who hold the National Police Cheifs Council Rural Crime Lead which covers the issue of dog attacks on sheep.
About Sheepwatch UK
The scale of this carnage explains why SheepWatch UK was formed in 2016 as a community level initiative to highlight the scale of the problem and to try to learn what common factors exist between the attacks. ‘We want to thank the hundreds of farmers who filled in our report forms’ said Terena Plowright founder of SheepWatchUK ‘this has shown that the only common denominator is that the dogs are not on leads and are out of control near livestock. It really shows it is as simple as that! Signs, type of fencing, footpath positions, all do not make a difference – its the lead every time’. But it appears that these figures are only showing the tip of the ice-burg because of under reporting. North Wales Rural Crime Unit are the leading police force in fighting dog attacks on sheep and their figures show that in North Wales over 1,000 sheep died in 385 attacks in the last three years. Scale that up to a national figure and we have over 15,000 sheep being killed a year across the UK.
The SheepWatch report also highlights the stress farmers are suffering due to the worry of repeated attacks, the financial losses and the shock at the horrific injuries and suffering of their animals. ‘Some farmers have telephoned me in despair’ said Terena ‘They are truly shocked and worried by what has happened. Some have shut their sheep in barns to protect them and two have even stayed out overnight sleeping with the sheep until the dogs are caught’.
Young Farmer Tom Hadley lost 56 lambs in a dog attack
Because of the stress on his family and the enormous emotional and financial cost, he has given up sheep farming. It’s not just the damage a dog bite can do, it is also the abortions that follow days later even if the dog only chased the sheep. It’s the time it takes for the farmer to treat the bites on a sheep. It’s the horrific injuries and the distress of the sheep and watching them struggling. It’s getting the vet out to put sheep to sleep. A dog loose near livestock is a potential killer, it does not matter how well trained people think their dog is.
Breeds that attack sheep
Another factor exposed by the report is the differing breeds of pet dogs which are doing the attacking –
Husky, Alsatian, Lurcher, German Shepherd, Czech Wolfdog, Labrador, Pointer, Patterson terrier, Border Terrier, Staffie, Collie, Akita, Jack Russell, Great Dane, Fox hound, Rotty, Bullmastif, Lakeland Terrier, Shihtzu, Alaskan Malamute, and others – its all sizes, all shapes and all breeds.
SheepWatchUK met in London with Police from all over the UK and DEFRA on Thursday (19th) to try and discuss options. The North Wales Police attended who have put sheep worrying at the top of their agenda. They have developed some of the best knowledge and experience on tackling this issue and SheepWatchUK and other police forces are keen to link with training and expertise to share knowledge so the issues can be addressed. ‘We have looked at which laws work in which circumstances ‘said PC Dave Allen from North Wales Police’ and we now know what evidence we need to collect to generate a conviction and compensation and we are eager to share this with others’.
Aware of the welfare of the dogs
‘We are also very aware of the welfare of the dogs’ said Terena ‘if a dog is not under control it is a risk to everyone and could easily cause traffic accidents or attack other dogs. Getting shot by a farmer is just one of many risks that face these loose dogs’. Stephen Jenkinson from the Kennel Club has looked into many of the issues caused by stray dogs and sees this as just one of the many possible awful outcomes when dogs are not cared for responsibly.
Help make everyone aware of how much damage a pet dog can do
Tim Morris from the Animal Health and Welfare Board in DEFRA explained that now everyone has come together we hope to put some safeguards in place to improve this sad situation. We are looking at developing at strategy which works for everyone. One aspect is likely to be working with SheepWatchUK to release an advisory website for farmers and other parties, we are looking at supporting the sharing of best practice using the North Wales model and also looking at how we can better record the effects this is having on the rural communities. Finally, we need to make sure people are aware of the damage a pet dog can do to a sheep in a few seconds so education will also form part of this new focused strategy.