With reported cases of sheep worrying on the rise, the National Sheep Association (NSA) has launched a new online resource providing information and guidance on the problem, in a bid to increase public awareness and understanding.
The new resource at www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners offers the public an insight into sheep worrying, along with practical advice on how to handle their dog when out in the countryside. There is also legal information and tips for farmers to help them deal with attacks on their sheep.
The creation of the online facility follows a recent survey on sheep worrying conducted by NSA. The survey of 580 sheep farmers revealed just how serious a problem attacks by dogs are, with 58% of respondents describing it as a persistent problem for their business. The most common cost to a farmer of a single attack is £200-£399, but with reports of some attacks causing up to £10,000 of damage. The survey also revealed that 96% of attacks led to at least one sheep being stressed or injured and 35% of attacks led to the death of at least one sheep.
Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, said: “NSA and its farmer-members want everyone to share in the iconic landscapes and beautiful countryside that sheep farming in the UK has played an integral role is creating and maintaining. Much of the UK’s rural landscape is maintained by grazing sheep so there is always a strong chance you will encounter some while out with your dog.
“NSA has created this new website to help walkers and their dogs enjoy fun and safe days out without disrupting the important work of sheep farmers. It will hopefully increase understanding of sheep worrying among dog owners and ensure they are confident of their responsibilities when walking on or living near farmland. Sheep are valuable assets and any harm to them harms a farmer’s livelihood. It is every dog’s instinct to chase, even if they are usually obedient and good with other animals, and chasing can do serious damage to sheep, even if the dog doesn’t catch them”.
The online guide for dog owners covers all aspects of walking a dog in rural areas, from staying within the law to training tips, and focuses on areas highlighted by the NSA survey. Farmers responding to the survey identified dog walkers failing to keep dogs on leads around animals as the main cause of dog worrying, followed by walkers’ assumption that their pet won’t attack livestock. As well as tackling these and other issues, the new web section debunks the belief that dogs do not damage sheep if they chase but do not catch them; 63% of attacks described in the survey resulted in invisible damage to sheep, such as lower conception rates at mating time and abortion in pregnant sheep. Information on worm control in dogs is also available.
Mr Stocker added: “We really want walkers to enjoy the countryside and feel confident about their responsibilities to farmers and livestock, and encouraging them to put their dog on a lead will solve a lot of the problem. We also want to raise awareness about dog owners allowing their dog to roam, perhaps during the day when they are at work, and not ensuring their dog cannot escape from the property.”