Dog attacks on livestock continued to wreak havoc and devastation on the countryside in 2015, with more than 1,000 attacks reported for the third year running.
Investigations by Farmers Guardian found police recorded 1,051 attacks last year, up from 1,044 the previous year.
Scottish farmers suffered the highest number of attacks, with 178 animals chased, injured or killed; 134 incidents were reported in Sussex and there were 105 in Devon and Cornwall.
The majority of areas saw an increase. Attacks rose in Cumbria, from 51 to 89; Cheshire, 32 to 47; West Yorkshire, 62 to 82; Wiltshire, 20 to 25; Hertfordshire, 13 to 16; Cambridgeshire, 8 to 11; Greater Manchester, 27 to 35; Cleveland, one to two and in South Wales, 32 to 42.
However, other areas saw a decrease in 2015 from 2014. North Wales went from 34 to 26; Northern Ireland, 126 to 90; Lancashire, 51 to 10; South Yorkshire, 17 to zero; Northumbria, 28 to 20; West Midlands, five to three and Derbyshire, 20 to 19.
The issue was brought to the fore at the weekend, when Farmers Guardian’s Ben Briggs and hill farmer Andrew Thorpe described the impact of dog attacks to listeners of BBC Radio Lancashire’s Lancashire Outdoors programme.
Mr Thorpe said: “Recently, someone walked through the gate at the back of the reservoir with two dogs. I turned round to them and asked them to tie their dogs up, and they said they had no lead.
“I gave them some bailing twine from my pocket and said please tie them up.
“I cannot tell you what he called me. But if I had shot his dogs, which I am well within my rights to do if I consider them a threat to my livestock, what would I have been then?”
The British Veterinary Association has been working alongside Farmers Guardian, the National Sheep Association and The Original Muck Boot Company to reiterate the Take the Lead message, especially at lambing time.
BVA president Sean Wensley said: “Chasing and attacks can lead to serious injuries, fatalities and spontaneous abortion for sheep and other livestock, due to stress.
“We do not want to discourage people from walking their dogs in the countryside, as it has health benefits for both owner and pet, but making sure your dog is on a lead near livestock prevents avoidable attacks and keeps your dog safe too.”
It came as farm leaders questioned whether the carnage caused by dog attacks on livestock would ever end after the ‘worst attack in living memory’ saw 116 sheep killed this week.
The sheep, many of which were pregnant, were savaged on the West Dean Estate, East Sussex on Monday.
It is believed the sheep had been herded into a tight group against a fence where they either died from shock or by being crushed in the flock.
Farmer Gordon Wyeth made the tragic discovery of what the NFU has described as ‘the worst incident of its kind’.
While the cost of the 116 dead sheep is likely to be in excess of £17,000, it will cost Mr Wyeth a further £2,000 to dispose of the carcases.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said this was another prime example of the damage dogs were capable of when they were out of control.
“The only way we can prevent attacks like this happening is to keep dogs on their leads. It is all about responsible dog ownership,” said Mr Stocker.
“While the majority of dog owners are responsible, there are a number of people who simply do not care.
“These repeat offenders need to be given stricter penalties from police and magistrates alike.”
Sheep worrying attacks are continuing to wreak havoc throughout the UK, with nine sheep ‘brutally attacked’ in Afonwen, North Wales, this week.
Some sheep had their ears bitten off while others were covered in puncture wounds.
To request Take the Lead signs, sponsored by The Original Muck Boot Company, which warn dog owners to keep their pets on a lead around livestock, send a self-addressed A4 envelope with at least three first-class stamps to:
FG Take the Lead,
Fulwood Business Park,
FG sent requests to all the police forces in the UK under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Out of the 45 forces, 24 responded.
Most forces record crime data in different ways and some forces asked us to point out some data may not be 100 per cent accurate.