FARMERS are in fear of their sheep being attacked or harassed by dogs, an industry body has said.

Sheep worrying is an offence, which dog owners can be charged with and fined up to £1,000 at the magistrates court, and covers dogs attacking or chasing sheep. Farmers can also shoot dogs in some circumstances, if they are concerned for their flock.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) said more than two thirds of sheep farmers who responded to its UK-wide survey have reported an increase in sheep worrying attacks by dogs during the past year.

The body said it received a record-breaking response to its 2021 survey specifically aimed at farmers who had experienced dog attacks in the past year. It said the increase in contributions indicates the scale of the serious problem.

It is also concerned that a new generation of dog owners – who bought their first pet during lockdown – have little appreciation of how to behave around livestock in the countryside.

On average, each respondent to the survey experienced seven cases of sheep worrying during the past year resulting in five sheep injured and two sheep killed per attack.

Estimated financial losses through incidents of sheep worrying of up to £50,000 were recorded, with an average across all respondents of £1,570. However, most respondents received no or very little compensation.

The National Wales:

As well as the threat to animal welfare and farm income, the NSA said the most concerning finding to come out of 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.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA’s own survey results combined with recently reported figures from industry partners both show a concerning increase in the number of sheep worrying by dogs cases during the past year.

“There is much evidence suggesting this is a result of the various periods of national lockdown that have been experienced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic with dog ownership increasing and the general public enjoying more time in the countryside as one of the few outdoor pursuits still able to be enjoyed.

“The issue is receiving more attention from the media but there is still much work to do to continue the education of the dog owning public to ensure the future safety and welfare of both farmers’ sheep flocks and pet owners’ much loved dogs and this needs to come from strengthened countryside use guidelines and stricter legislation.”

The NSA also argues its survey supports calls for an urgent need to review legislation.

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Eighty per cent of respondents agreed that the rest of the UK should follow the recent change in Scottish law that sees stricter enforcement including fines of up to £40,000 and/ or 12 months imprisonment which it says would be a stronger deterrent to dog owners responsible for allowing attacks to happen.

The survey results have been shared as NSA launches its two week long 2021 campaign #LeadOn aiming to increase awareness of the issue amongst the general dog owning public.

The sheep farming charity hopes the survey results will help bring the issue to the attention of the general public.

It is also seeking to raise understanding that any breed and temperament of dog can be a threat to sheep and the only way to tackle the issue is to ensure dogs are kept on a lead whenever sheep could be nearby, even if they are out of sight.

Mr Stocker said: “NSA is committed to ensuring the general public develops a better understanding of the stress and suffering that any dog, no matter its breed, can cause to sheep by barking, chasing and attacking them. It is a serious animal welfare issue that puts both sheep and much loved pets at risk.”

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NSA’s campaign includes several media interviews, social media activity, webinars, workshops and new online case studies and content on the NSA website to help both sheep farmers in reducing the risk of attacks happening on farm and the general public in preventing their dogs from being involved in sheep worrying attacks.

It is hoped the campaign hashtag #LeadOn will be recognised as encouragement to dog owners to be responsible and act as an example to others by keeping their pets on leads in the presence of livestock.

General information on the topic of sheep worrying by dogs can be found at www.sheepworrying.org.uk. NSA has also produced a range of graphics for farmers and other supporters to display and share demonstrating support for the NSA campaign.