Two thirds of UK sheep farmers have experienced an increase in dog attacks on their animals since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a survey.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) survey also found more than half of 616 farmer respondents had experienced abuse or intimidation when personally asking dog owners to put their pet on a lead, and 80% believed the rest of the UK needed to follow Scotland’s lead and adopt tougher penalties for livestock worrying.
New Scottish legislation, which passed through Holyrood earlier this year, has increased the penalties for livestock worrying to fines of up to £40,000 and/or imprisonment for 12 months.
The survey also found that on average each respondent experienced seven cases of sheep worrying during the past year, resulting in five sheep injured and two sheep killed per attack.
Estimated financial losses through incidents of sheep worrying of up to £50,000 were recorded, with an average across all respondents of £1,570, however most received little or no compensation.
How should you deal with an incident on your farm? The most important thing is to stay safe and stay legal.
— National Sheep Association (@natsheep) May 1, 2021
NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker, said the survey results coincided with the association’s #LeadOn campaign which encourages dog walkers to keep their pets on a lead when they are in the countryside near sheep.
“NSA’s own survey results, combined with recently reported figures from industry partners, both show a concerning increase in the number of sheep worrying by dogs cases during the past year,” said Mr Stocker.
“There is much evidence suggesting this is a result of the various periods of national lockdown that have been experienced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic with dog ownership increasing and the general public enjoying more time in the countryside as one of the few outdoor pursuits still able to be enjoyed.”
He said strengthened countryside use guidelines and stricter legislation were needed to ensure the future safety and welfare of both farmers’ sheep and pet owners’ dogs.
“NSA is committed to ensuring the general public develops a better understanding of the stress and suffering that any dog, no matter its breed, can cause to sheep by barking, chasing and attacking them,” added Mr Stocker.
He said he hoped the NSA’s campaign hashtag #LeadOn would encourage dog owners to be responsible and act as an example to others by keeping their pets on a lead in the presence of livestock.