The National Sheep Association has collected the experiences of farmers affected by sheep worrying by carrying out their annual survey. This year the survey focuses on positive and negative ways to influence dog owner behaviour and therefore the amount of dog attacks.
The main findings from the survey are as follows:
- Of all contributors to the 2017 survey, the average number of sheep worrying attacks they experienced in the last year was 7 incidents, however several respondents reported in excess of 100 cases. This number indicates a possible increase of incidents. In 2016 5 attacks was the average number of incidents experienced in a year.
- Of the attacks experienced the average number of sheep injured or killed in each attack was both 4 injured and 4 killed but with some contributors to the survey reporting 30 to 40 sheep killed. These results corresponded with results of the 2016 survey and those completed in earlier years.
- Reported impacts occurring as a result of attacks included sheep injured (67%), sheep killed (63%), a loss of production in ewes, including abortion (45%) and sheep needing to be euthanized following an attack (43%). Of these impacts the majority of respondents believed death from dog bites are the most common occurrence (27%).
- The 2017 survey concurs with those completed in previous years in finding that the majority of dog attacks take place in private, enclosed fields with no footpath. This year 56% of respondents agreed with this statement, a slight drop from 60% of respondents in 2016 and also in 2014. Other contributors stated attacks had taken place in private, enclosed fields with a public footpath or right of way and open access land.
- The survey revealed that most dog attacks are carried out by single dogs. 47% of people contributing to the results reported this number. 28% of contributors stated that the attacks usually involved 2 dogs. 21% of contributors stated that they rarely witnessed attacks and therefore could not comment on these figures. However, the results of the survey may contradict this figure as when asked which was the most common scenario for attacks on their sheep the majority of respondents (38%) said they found evidence of attacks when checking sheep rather than witnessing the attacks themselves.
- 72% of respondents to the survey felt dog owners assumed their pet would not attack livestock or cause any damage if they did. 62% felt that dog owners simply had a lack of regard or concern on the issue. 60% felt attacks occurred because dog owners did not keep their dogs on a lead. These results are in line with those from 2016’s survey that revealed most respondents thought the main cause of sheep worrying was dog owners not keeping their dog on a lead (72%), followed by dog owners assuming their pet wouldn’t attack livestock (71%) and the perception that a proportion of dog owners have little regard for the issue (63%).
- 71% of contributors to the survey display warning signs asking the public to keep their dog on a lead around livestock, however many reported that these signs are often vandalised or pulled down. Respondents who stated they do not display signs believed that there was no reason for doing this as their sheep were in fields a distance from public rights of way.
- When questioned if those experiencing dog attacks had reported the incidents to the police 39% said they reported every incident. 30% stated they only reported incidents they considered to be more serious. 21% of respondents had previously reported incidents but did not anymore.
- Of those that had reported incidents to the police most respondents (21%) experienced no outcome from their action. 18% were given a crime or incident reference number. A small number of respondents reported that owners of dogs involved had received some police visits and verbal warnings (5%), or were now involved in a prosecution (3%). These figures remain in line with results from 2016 and previous years, highlighting that despite cases of dog worrying continuing they are unlikely to be reported and even less likely to end in a prosecution against those involved in the attacks.
- A mixed opinion was given on the effectiveness of the action from the police. 42% of respondents viewed the action as good or better. 58% viewed the action as poor.
- Positive activities of local police forces were investigated in this year’s survey but sadly 53% of respondents believed they had witnessed no positive police activity in their local area. A much smaller number (15%) were aware of a rural crime team or rural crime officer in operation within the local police force.
- Respondents were asked what activities they felt would help to reduce dog worrying incidents. The most common responses were for farmers to shoot dogs caught in the act of worrying sheep (55%), for dogs involved in attacks to be seized by the police and destroyed (54%) and more dog worrying cases taken to court for prosecution by the police (51%). Of the suggested activities farmers shooting dogs caught in the act of worrying dogs was viewed to be the single most effective method to reduce incidents occurring.
NSA has a close working relationship with Farmers Guardian, the weekly newspaper for farmers, on sheep worrying and has supported their work asking police forces for information and dog worrying incidences via Freedom of Information requests. The figures show an interesting trend but are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of actual cases on the ground. This is for a nunber of reasons: not all police forces respond to the FOI request; dog worrying cases are handled in different ways so do not always show up in the stats; and farmer do not report every incident to the police. Click here to visit the Farmers Guardian dog worrying page.