March 2016 saw one incident leave 116 sheep dead. The attack, which police believe was almost certainly brought on by dogs, was branded the worst in living memory, leaving farmer Gordon Wyeth with a £17,000 livestock loss, plus the £2,000 cost of disposing of his lifeless flock.
In December that same year, young farmer Tom Hadley had his hard work “wiped out” in one afternoon, after two dogs decimated his 56-strong herd, with a total of 31 animals killed.
Whilst sheep “worrying” describes an incident whereby sheep are directly attacked by a dog, or suffer injuries or abortions as a result of being chased, in Mr Wyeth’s case, many of the sheep were crushed in a panic.
With cases on the rise, Police forces in rural areas across the country are seeking tougher penalties as Chief Constable Dave Jones of North Yorkshire Police, the national policing lead for rural and wildlife crime, explains:
“Our experience of dealing with dog attacks suggests there are some areas of the current legislation that could be improved”, he said.
Becky Ireland, Farm Account Executive at McClarrons, commented:
“Livestock worrying is an issue we are hearing about more and more frequently and what is most unsettling is that it is, more often than not, a preventable issue. By continuing to discuss and highlight the matter, we hope that dog owners will take more care when out walking their dogs.”
Suggestions include broadening the definition of “livestock” so that dogs involved in previous attacks on other animals can be seized to prevent a future attack on sheep.
Forces also want to see an increase in the maximum fine, which is currently £1,000. Mr Hadley estimated costs of £10,000 following the attack on his herd.
Owners or those in charge of dogs worrying sheep on agricultural land are guilty of an offence under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act of 1953.
Under the Animals Act of 1971, land and livestock owners are provided with statutory defence if they are forced to injure a dog to prevent or end an attack, but must report this to the police within 48 hours.
SheepWatch report that along with the thousands of sheep, hundreds of dogs are killed each year as a result of attacks on livestock.