Plans to improve powers to deal with livestock worrying cases welcomed, but proposals could go further, says NSA

10th June 2021

The National Sheep Association (NSA) welcomes any strengthening of legislation on livestock worrying by dogs, however, the sheep farming association believes that strengthening police powers to seize dogs should have been further backed up by a significant increase in the maximum fines that could be imposed. 
Following the announcement that stricter measures to crack down on livestock worrying were to be introduced in England and Wales through the Kept Animals Bill introduced to Parliament earlier this week, NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “This was an opportunity to create a major deterrent to this antisocial behaviour by substantially increasing the maximum applicable fine alongside more proactive measures to prevent attacks occurring. Defra and Ministers responsible for English legislation are missing a trick in not taking the opportunity to increase fines in line with what the Scottish Parliament has done”.
The provisions of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021, which received Royal Assent on the 5thMay 2021, includes imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, a fine not exceeding £40,000, or possibly both. A person who commits a similar offence in England under this new proposed Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill is liable to a summary conviction and a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale – currently £1000.
NSA Chief Executive, Phil Stocker adds: “There are significant and very welcome improvements contained in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to support the police and rural crime teams after an offence has occurred, but very little to reduce the number of incidents that are increasing year-on-year. In fact, the lack of clarity in defining “under close control” puts farmers and dog owners in a difficult, potentially conflicting position.”
Recent reports of out-of-control dogs causing harm to livestock including a Highland cow being chased over an embankment leading to its death and an MP being fined for his dog chasing deer in Richmond Park, London, underline a significant increase in the number of incidents that have come with increased dog ownership and more people using farmland for leisure. The results from NSA’s own sheep worrying by dogs survey also revealed a concerning increase in dog attacks on sheep over the past year.
NSA believes these incidents all point to an urgent need for simple, straightforward and effective measures to radically reduce the number of cases. NSA urges ministers to avoid any ambiguity by legislating for non-working dogs to be on a lead when around or likely to come into contact with livestock.
DEFRA’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare highlights the UK’s long tradition of protecting animals and outlines its ambitions to raise welfare standards further – with tougher penalties for animal cruelty, raising the maximum prison sentence from six months to five years, and a new range of (unlimited) fines to be applied to those who are cruel to animals. NSA believes that the injury and stress involved when sheep and other livestock are attacked results in serious animal cruelty and should be subject to similar maximum penalties and deterrents.
While the NSA would like to see legislation strengthened beyond what appears to be proposed it will also continue to campaign to improve attitudes to responsible dog ownership, to protect its members' livelihoods and reduce stress and anxiety. NSA looks forward to working with DEFRA and other organisations to improve responsible dog ownership and a better situation for all involved.