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Sheep-worrying campaign stepped up as farmer survey reveals alarming statistics on livestock worrying; National Sheep Association launches public awareness drive amid 'concerning' financial and mental cost of problem


By Hector MacKenzie

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Signage on farms helps raise awareness but is not always effective.
Signage on farms helps raise awareness but is not always effective.

More than two-thirds of the UK’s sheep farmers responding to a recent survey have experienced an increase in sheep worrying attacks by dogs during the past year.

The troubling statistic is part of a "concerning" set of findings released by the National Sheep Association (NSA) from its recent farmer’s survey assessing the incidence and impact of sheep worrying by dog attacks.

NSA received a record-breaking response for its 2021 survey specifically aimed at farmers who had experienced dog attacks in the past year. The increase in contributions indicates the scale of the serious problem.

Highlands and Islands police division have issued a warning about dogs chasing livestock.
Highlands and Islands police division have issued a warning about dogs chasing livestock.

On average, each respondent to the survey 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 £1570. However, most respondents received no or very little compensation.

But in addition to the threat to animal welfare and the farmer’s income perhaps the most concerning finding to be taken from the survey is the effect the issue is having on the mental wellbeing of the country’s sheep farmers. Farmers completing the survey reported feelings of anxiety, anger, upset, stress and frustration as a result of sheep worrying by dog attacks with more than half recognising that this was causing a moderate to severe impact on their mental health.

The impact of livestock worrying can be devastating, affecting farmers' mental health as well as hitting them in the pocket – often without compensation.
The impact of livestock worrying can be devastating, affecting farmers' mental health as well as hitting them in the pocket – often without compensation.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker says: “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.

"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.

“The issue is receiving more attention from the media but there is still much work to do to continue the education of the dog owning public to ensure the future safety and welfare of both farmer’s sheep flocks and pet owner’s much loved dogs and this needs to come from strengthened countryside use guidelines and stricter legislation.”

The urgent need for a review of legislation surrounding the issue is highlighted in the survey.

Some 80 per cent of respondents agreed that the rest of the UK should follow the recent change in Scottish law that sees stricter enforcement including fines of up to £40,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment acting a stronger deterrent to dog owners responsible for allowing attacks to happen.

A full summary of NSA’s survey results can be found on the NSA website at https://go.nationalsheep.org.uk/surveyresults.

The survey results have been shared as NSA launches its two-week long 2021 campaign #LeadOn aiming to increase awareness of the issue amongst the general dog owning public.

The sheep farming charity hopes the alarming survey results will help demonstrate the extent of the issue to the general public.

It is also working hard to raise understanding that any breed and temperament of dog can be a threat to sheep and therefore the only way to tackle the issue is to ensure dogs are kept on a lead whenever sheep could be nearby, even if they are out of sight.

Highland police issue warning to dog owners

'Horrific' injuries from dog attacks prompts new warning


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