Dog attacks on sheep continue to plight farmers, campaign warns

Most rural crime police teams across the UK have reported an increase in dog attacks on sheep over recent years
Most rural crime police teams across the UK have reported an increase in dog attacks on sheep over recent years

Dog attacks on sheep continue to plight farmers across the UK, impacting both animal welfare and farmers' mental wellbeing, a new campaign warns.

The annual livestock worrying awareness campaign has today (25 March) revealed concerning findings that indicate cases continue to increase.

The campaign, by the National Sheep Association (NSA), aims to highlight the severity of the issue and increase awareness amongst the public.

The body has conducted an annual farmer survey on the topic for years, with new results showing that attacks leaving animals at risk of miscarrying their young due to stress, injury or even death, continue to rise.

It shows that 78% of rural crime police teams across the country have reported an increase in dog attacks on sheep over recent years.

The majority (76%) of the forces reported that they respond to dog incidents at least once a month, with 33% of them dealing with incidents on a weekly basis.

And just over half of the forces contributing to the survey (57%) stated that sheep worrying by dogs was their most frequently reported rural crime.

The stress of worrying by dogs can cause sheep to die and pregnant ewes to miscarry their lambs, while sheep fleeing from dogs are often killed or seriously injured by their panicked attempts to escape.

Dog bites can cause death in sheep or necessitate them being put down at a later date, or in less severe cases considerable veterinary bills and additional welfare issues.

Sheep worrying by dogs can cause serious damage to farmer mental wellbeing, the NSA explained in its campaign.

The body's chief executive, Phil Stocker said there should be a 'true deterrent' to those who continue to ignore the recommendations to keep dogs on leads near livestock.

He said: “We know that cases continue to rise, however, only a fraction of those do actually get reported to the police due to farmers believing there may be little this action can do.

"But NSA urges farmers to report all attacks as we continue to strive to reveal the true alarming level of this problem.

"Only then can we hope for much needed legislation to be brought about that punishes those responsible for these crimes appropriately."

Well over half (64%) of police forces are represented in the 2024 survey. Of these, the majority claim to be confident in dealing with sheep worrying incidents.

The NSA said this demonstrates further the need for farmers to continue to report and engage with their local rural crime teams.

It comes after new NFU Mutual figures show that livestock worth £2.4m were severely injured or killed by dogs last year, up nearly 30% compared to 2022.

In England, the south west was the worst-hit region by cost, with dog attacks costing around £359,000, followed by the Midlands, at £331,000.

NFU Mutual called the public to be 'extra vigilant' with their pets as the Easter holidays loom.