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Protecting your flocks from sheep worrying

According to The National Sheep Association’s latest survey, 70% of farmers have experienced a sheep worrying attack in the past 12 months, and 95% of respondents say they experience up to ten cases per year.1

Farmers are taking necessary steps to protect their flocks, including displaying signs, moving sheep to areas with less public access and working with communities via social media. However, unfortunately, these actions have had little impact in improving the number of sheep worrying incidents.

Increases in dog ownership

As the population of dogs in the UK has grown over the last decade, 2 so has the share of dog-owning households. The number of pet dogs owned by UK households was approximately 12 million in 2021, an increase of 3.5 million compared to 2020.3

People often assume they have the right to walk freely with their pets across a farmer’s land. Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW Act), anyone can access open land for recreation.4 Ultimately, preventing sheep worrying should be down to dog owners taking tighter control of their animals, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of attacks.

Taking necessary precautions

Any farmer whose experienced livestock worrying will know the devastating impact it can have, causing personal distress as well as significant financial damage. Even if the livestock isn’t caught, the stress caused by dogs can cause sheep to die and pregnant ewes to miscarry their lambs.

How you can protect your flock

Here are some simple but essential steps you can take to protect your livestock:

  • Boundary fences—make sure they’re fully intact and have no holes in them that dogs can get through.
  • Notice signs—warning dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead.
  • Footpaths—where possible, keep sheep away from fields with footpaths.
  • Check your flock—regularly in case any have been attacked.
  • Safeguard during lambing—farmers are permitted to close areas of public land that contain sheep to dogs for up to six weeks once a year during lambing season.
  • Social media—use social media to warn walkers when sheep are going to be in local fields and for how long they are going to be there.
  • Monitor the weather—look ahead and plan for an inevitable increase in footfall along rights of way. If possible, move your flock out of a field used by the public earlier than planned if the weather forecast indicates a period of good walking conditions.
  • Insurance—protection for livestock worrying can be included under a farm combined policy, so you’re covered should the worst happen.

What to do if your flock is a victim of sheep worrying

Document evidence—if possible, ask someone to film or photograph the incident. Capture images of the dog, its owner and other evidence, such as vehicle details.

Contact your insurer—who will offer help and advice.

Report it to the police—it is currently an offence to allow a dog to worry livestock, with a maximum fine of £1k issued to those found guilty.

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, introduced to parliament on 8 June 2021, included new measures to crack down on dog attacks and livestock worrying.5

In Scotland, The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 states that owners of dogs attacking and worrying livestock can now be sent to prison or fined up to £40k.  The dog doesn’t have to physically attack the sheep to cause them extreme stress or death.6

You can find more information about our livestock insurance and farming cover here or talk to one of our farming specialists for more information.

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