Senior Government and police chiefs have promised they will take action after new research showed about 15,000 sheep were killed by loose dogs last year – 10 times more than previously thought.
The National Police Chief Council has agreed to set up a group to investigate how police deal with dog attacks on livestock following concern from campaign groups, including Farmers Guardian, that forces were not taking such attacks seriously.
Research by SheepWatch UK indicated more than 15,000 sheep and unborn lambs were killed in 2016, with many more injured.
The figures also showed 49 dogs were destroyed as a result.
Hampshire farmer and SheepWatch UK founder Terena Plowright said: “Our report has revealed the utter carnage which is happening in the countryside.
“But it appears these figures are only showing the tip of the iceberg 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.”
As previously highlighted by Farmers Guardian’s Take the Lead campaign, the disconnect between Government legislation and police forces’ interpretation of it meant owners of dogs which had attacked livestock often went unpunished.
Research by Farmers Guardian has also shown farmers are reluctant to report attacks to police because some forces do not take them seriously.
Livestock worrying is a criminal offence under the Protection of Livestock Act 1953.
PC Dave Allen of North Wales Police said: “We have looked at which laws work in which circumstances 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.”
Mrs Plowright, who met with Defra officials in London last week, said the new group should go some way to educating and training police officers about the seriousness of dog attacks, share best practice, and, in turn, bring about justice for the farmers affected.
It is estimated dog attacks on livestock costs the UK farming industry more than £2 million each year.
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Mrs Plowright added: “We’ve got to remember this isn’t just about the monetary aspect, but the major physiological impact this crime has on farmers.
“Some of the farmers I have spoken to are at desperation point due to the worry of repeated attacks, the financial losses and the shock at the horrific injuries and suffering of their animals.
“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.”
She also highlighted the animal welfare issue of dogs being free to run loose.
“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,” she said.
Tim Morris from the Animal Health and Welfare Board said: “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.”
To request Take the Lead signs 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, Farmers Guardian,
Unit 4, Fulwood Business Park,
For more information click here.