The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has released a report highlighting the scale of dog attacks on livestock - livestock worrying - and the challenges faced by police forces in supporting farmers to deal with the issue.
At present, dog owners are not obliged to make a report to the police if their dog attacked any livestock, and attacks are not treated as a ‘recordable crime’ on police systems.
As a result, there has been little reliable police data on the scale of the problem facing farmers and livestock owners.
However, a recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare estimated that around 15,000 sheep alone were killed by dogs in 2016, putting the cost to the farming sector at around £1.3m.
Over the last year, five police forces (North Yorkshire, Devon and Cornwall, Sussex, North Wales and Hertfordshire) have been taking part in an initiative to look at the true extent of livestock worrying in the countryside.
The forces analysed data on their systems from September 2013 to 2017 and found that:
The NPCC’s Wildlife and Rural Crime Working Group considered the findings and identified the following challenges faced by police forces when dealing with sheep worrying:
National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Wildlife and Rural Crime, Chief Constable David Jones said: “This project provides hard data showing livestock worrying is a very significant issue for farmers that impacts on their livelihoods.
“We need dog-owners to take responsibility for their animals – not just by putting their dogs on a lead when out walking, but by preventing them from escaping from home and causing damage to livestock. We need livestock owners to report incidents so that we can gather intelligence and launch investigations. Above all, we need the powers to tackle this problem effectively and an overhaul of the outdated and sometimes ineffective rules surrounding livestock worrying”.
Lord Gardiner, Minister for animal welfare, said: “Livestock worrying is distressing for farmers and animals and can have serious financial repercussions.
“That is why Defra have been working with community organisations including Sheepwatch, and with Police forces to highlight the support available, encourage farmers to report incidents to the authorities and for the police to take appropriate action.
“The report makes a number of recommendations and proposals for improvements to the legislation which I will be looking at closely.”
CLA legal adviser Andrew Gillett said: “Dog attacks on livestock have a major financial and emotional impact on farmers.
“We fully support any extra measures needed to reduce incidences of livestock worrying and to help police investigate the crime. Alongside this, a new approach is needed to allow farmers to temporarily divert public rights of way where livestock is present.
“This would provide flexibility for farmers, enhance safety for users and improve animal welfare.”
Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, Angela Smith MP said: “Livestock worrying is a serious problem which can have such a harmful impact on animals, farmers and our rural economy.
"I welcome this report by the NPCC, which complements the approach taken by the Animal Welfare APPG. The report clearly highlights the serious challenges that police forces face when dealing with the problem of dog attacks on livestock and I eagerly await the Government’s response to the NPCC’s findings”.