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Thursday, 28 August 2014

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Sheep worrying now 'massive' problem in Cumbria say farming chiefs

A spate of attacks on sheep has prompted a plea from farmers for owners to keep their dogs under control.

Sheep photo
Police are investigating sheep worrying incidents across CUmbria

Farming chiefs claim sheep worrying and mauling has become a “massive” problem throughout the county.

The fells around West Cumbria and the Lake District have been named as having the highest number of incidents.

Police are also investigating a number of sheep worrying incidents in Egremont, St Bees, the Eden Valley, Annan and Kirkby Stephen.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is calling for tougher penalties, vigilance and education if the county is to tackle its sheep worrying problem.

Dogs caught worrying sheep could be shot, even though farmers are reluctant to do this except as a last resort, and their owners liable to prosecution and heavy costs.

Concerns were highlighted as ewes and their young lambs are released on the fellsides, putting them at greater risk of sheep worrying.

“The worrying of livestock by dogs is a year-round concern, but it is between March and July, the birthing season, that ewes and cows are especially vulnerable as a frightened animal might abort or abandon its young,” said Esther Pritt, farm account executive, based at NFU Broughton.

“We seem to be getting more and more claims as a result of sheep worrying,” she added.

“People need to understand the damage that a dog can do, even if it is just chasing sheep,” said Ms Pritt.

She added: “We had one incident where a walker was with his dog on the Eskdale fells. The dog was merrily chasing sheep, and the owner was doing absolutely nothing. As a result the farmer lost a number of lambs. We had another instance where a family parked in a lay-by for lunch and went into a farmer’s field to throw a ball for their dog. Just how are we going to educate people like this?” she added.

Livestock worrying

Worrying livestock can involve a dog or dogs attacking or chasing livestock. If a dog is worrying livestock on agricultural land the owner (and the person in charge of the dog if not the owner) is guilty of a criminal offence under section 1 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

If found guilty, the owner and/or the person in charge of the dog could receive a fine of up to £1,000.

Shooting a dog which is worrying livestock

Shooting the dog should always be the last resort. Farmers could be prosecuted under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 for damaging or destroying the property of another (i.e. the dog) without lawful excuse. However, section 5(2)(b) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 states that an individual has a lawful excuse for damaging or destroying property belonging to someone else if their livestock are in immediate need of protection.

Farmers cannot rely on this defence if they shoot a dog that is:

  • leaving the vicinity, having already worried the livestock
  • has been caught by its owner
  • in the field but is not paying any attention to the livestock, is not near the livestock, and is not chasing the livestock

If a farmer does shoot a dog that has been worrying livestock they should take care to ensure that they do not cause unnecessary suffering to the dog if it has not been killed immediately by the shot.

This may mean contacting the owner and/or taking an injured animal to a veterinary surgeon. If a farmer allows a dog to suffer unnecessarily they could be guilty of an offence under animal welfare legislation.

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