Dog owners and walkers will be targeted with a new campaign being launched to combat the increasing number of ‘sheep worrying’ cases. The National Sheep Association is launching their drive to raise awareness of the dangers dogs can cause to livestock.
Over the past few months, there have been multiple cases of sheep being not only bothered, but viciously attacked by out of control canines. In Hertfordshire, 13 sheep were killed when they were savaged by two dogs – the worst attack recorded in the area in three years. Elsewhere, there have been numerous cases of dog attacks at Cissbury Ring in West Sussex already in 2018.
According to recent research from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, the cost of these kind of attacks to the farming industry, reaches a whopping £1.3 million a year.
While the vast majority of dog walkers are responsible enough to ensure their pooches stay well clear of livestock, the NSA is hoping that their latest campaign will go some way to educate those who perhaps may not be aware of the issue.
Katie James, the NSA’s Communications Support Officer introduced the initiative; “Sheep worrying by dogs is a very serious problem for farmers which isn’t going away, and NSA continues to hear of a frustratingly high number of dog attacks on livestock. We do not want to discourage dog owners from enjoying the beautiful landscapes in Britain, only to do so responsibly and consider the impact an attack can have on farmers’ business and livelihood as well as animal welfare”.
The timing of the launch is no coincidence either. With the official start of British Summertime coming on March 25th, there is likely to be not only an increased number of dog owners and walkers getting out an exploring the countryside, but a greater vulnerability to the livestock the organisation are there to protect.
“With the long-awaited arrival of spring, farmers can see an increase in walkers on footpaths through and around fields. And at a time when ewes are heavily pregnant or have young lambs at foot, the risk of dogs chasing livestock can also increase the risk of serious problems like ewes aborting or lambs becoming separated from their mothers,” James added.
While the risk for farmers is a financial one, in that they could lose valuable livestock, the risk for dog walkers is two-fold. Under The Animals Act 1971, farmers may have the authority to shoot a dog that they feel poses a threat to their stock. Dozens of dogs have been shot by farmers in the past year because of concerns for their animals. Not only would the probable death of your (or a client’s) dog be a traumatic time for any walker, you could face financial implications too.
Sheep and other livestock are counted as ‘property’ by regulations. If a dog were to injure or even kill a farmer’s animal, it could see the walker or owner sued, or even charged.
A Public Liability claim could see costs of thousands of pounds due to the farmer, if you are proven to be liable. This could be that you didn’t take action to control the dog you were walking, or that you failed to use a lead when walking through farmland.
First and foremost, walkers are urged to be vigilant. The NSA campaign will aim to showcase, via their social media channels, the dangers that out-of-control dogs can have to livestock.
When walking dogs in a rural location, across the fields and the open countryside, take note of your surroundings. If there is grazing livestock nearby, ensure your dogs are either on a lead or trained well-enough that they will respond to your calls.
If in doubt, go for the lead method. Regardless of how well dogs are trained, there is always the danger of them chasing a lamb, cow or other animals if they see fit. Many farmers fields will be off limits anyway, or will at least require you to ensure dogs are not loose in the area.
Most of all, respect the surroundings you are walking in. This reminder will not be required for the majority of walkers, but it’s always best to consider the impact your walk will have on the route you take.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts you cannot prevent everything that might go wrong. If you are a professional dog walker, it is worth taking out dog walking insurance. This will cover your legal costs if the worst were to happen and a dog you were walking attacked sheep and you were sued. The cost of this cover is relatively small, and can save a huge amount of hassle and financial loss if anything were to go wrong on a walk.
The latest NSA campaign will aim to raise awareness of sheep worrying, but with the best will in the world it will not stop every incident. Make sure you’re protected if you are involved in one of these unfortunate events.