Livestock worrying cases rise by 50% as farmer pleas with public

Isobel Connell has campaigned for years for dog owners to use leads, such as putting up signs in all of her fields
Isobel Connell has campaigned for years for dog owners to use leads, such as putting up signs in all of her fields

A farmer has urged dog owners to keep their pet on a lead wherever there is livestock, as the cost of livestock attacks have increased more than 50%.

Isobel Connell, a fifth generation farmer in the Chiltern Hills in southern England, has said that ‘devasting’ dog attacks were having the biggest impact on her family farm, with new incidents occurring every week.

The farm, situated within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), has been plagued with such incidents for years, but the pandemic and rise in dog ownership has seen more attacks.

It comes as NFU Mutual has published its latest figures on the cost of the crime, with farm animals worth £1.8m severely injured or killed by dogs last year a 50% increase.

The rural insurer said it was 'crucial' for the public to 'act responsibly' with dogs, particularly against the backdrop of this year’s lambing season.

Just last week, Isobel Connell discovered three dead ewes in one field that had been chased to exhaustion overnight by escaped unsupervised dogs.

The post mortem revealed all three sets of lungs were frothing from over exertion where they had been chased for so long over the course of the night until they collapsed and died, leaving behind 6 orphan lambs.

"It was heart-breaking to hear the orphaned lambs bleating next to their dead mothers", Isobel said.

But the worst attack, which took place in April 2016, saw 66 lambs killed and 19 ewes in a single field by two loose Labradors one night.

“We walked into Armageddon that day," she said, "My father and I were both brimming with tears at the sight of destruction before us as we had to gather up what we could to give the surviving injured animals treatment to try and save them.

“It is gut-wrenching to rear these animals from birth and find them savagely injured and killed, you cannot imagine the needless suffering they have endured.

“The worse fatalities seem to be those where the dogs are unsupervised and can keep chasing and attacking until they tire themselves out.

"It is important dog owners make sure their pets are secure at home to stop these preventable incidents from happening.”

NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, Hannah Binns said that the pandemic saw many people owning dogs for the first time, but tragically this had been followed by a sharp increase in the cost of attacks.

“Even dogs chasing sheep can have serious consequences," she said, "We’ve heard reports from farmers where sheep and lambs have drowned, suffocated, been run over or chased off cliff edges because of out-of-control dogs.

“If there is an attack, it is important people accept responsibility and report it, either to the police or a local farmer, so that the injured animals are not left suffering.”

The warning follows NFU Mutual’s survey of over 1,100 dog owners, which found that despite 64% of them admitting their dogs chase animals, almost half believe theirs was not capable of injuring livestock.

Nearly two thirds of owners (64%) say they let their dog roam off-lead in the countryside. However, almost four in ten (39%) admit that their pets do not always come back when called.

In England, the Midlands was the worst-hit region by cost, with dog attacks on livestock costing an estimated £313,000, followed by the South West (£273,000).

Isobel and her family have campaigned for years for dog owners to use leads, from putting up signs in all fields warning that sheep are grazing, to sharing information on social media.

“There is one field in the Hughenden Valley near Wycombe that we have never grazed throughout our 10-year farm business tenancy there because we simply cannot risk our sheep’s lives by putting them in there.

"We have nicknamed another field 'Death Valley' as there were six separate incidents in one just day,” she explained.

“Recently we moved some sheep into this field and within 15 minutes, I got a phone call saying there had been an attack due to a dog being off its lead and the owner completely ignoring our seven A3 signs around the field stating that sheep were out there."

She added that the incidents have also had a huge financial toll on the business, costing them a fortune in veterinarian bills and signage which people ‘rip down’.

“I can’t understand if people love their dogs so much, surely, they should want to protect them by simply using a lead and securing their properties at night.

"This is such a simple action to take and would save not only the lives of livestock but their dogs as well," Isobel said.