Calls to keep dogs under control in Hertfordshire countryside after rise in attacks on sheep

A surge in vicious dog attacks on sheep has prompted farmers’ pleas for owners to keep their pets under control in the Hertfordshire countryside.
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The increase is believed to be, in part, down to a sharp rise in dog ownership during the coronavirus lockdown.

With the lambing season under way, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is urging dog owners to keep their pets on leads around livestock.

New figures from insurers NFU Mutual have revealed, nationally, farm animals worth an estimated £2.4 million were severely injured or killed by dogs in 2023, up nearly 30 per cent from the previous year.

Hertfordshire farmer Angus Mackay.Hertfordshire farmer Angus Mackay.
Hertfordshire farmer Angus Mackay.

Hertfordshire farmers are reporting a rise in incidents.

NFU Regional Livestock Board Representative Angus Mackay said around twenty-five sheep have been killed from dog attacks at the mixed farm he manages with his family near Hatfield, Hertfordshire, since they set up there in 2016, costing the business thousands of pounds.

Mr Mackay, a third-generation farmer, said: “Dog attacks continue to be a big issue for many farmers around here.

“There is a serious financial impact on the business but, for me, the main concern is the suffering the sheep go through.

A sign in Hertfordshire urging dog walkers to keep their pets under controlA sign in Hertfordshire urging dog walkers to keep their pets under control
A sign in Hertfordshire urging dog walkers to keep their pets under control

“We feel a real responsibility for the welfare and care of all our animals here, so it is awful to see what happens.

“This is upsetting for dog owners as well. Many don’t understand what their pets are capable of and how things can go badly, very quickly if they don’t have control of their dogs.”

Livestock worrying includes barking, chasing, biting and killing.

It is a criminal offence and dog owners could be liable for prosecution or a fine.

A responsible dog walker with their pet on a lead near sheep.A responsible dog walker with their pet on a lead near sheep.
A responsible dog walker with their pet on a lead near sheep.

Under the Animals Act 1971, a dog could be shot if caught in the act by a landowner.

Incidents cause anxiety, miscarriage, and terrible injuries often leading to euthanasia by a vet.

NFU Mutual’s recent dog owner survey found that there had been a 4 per cent increase in people letting their dogs off lead in the countryside from the previous year.

Mr Mackay said: “I think the increase in dog ownership in lockdown is partially behind the rise in attacks.

“There are a lot of new dog owners, and some might not fully appreciate what can happen.

“The majority of dog owners are responsible and follow the rules.

“But it is important that everyone makes sure they keep their dogs on a lead around livestock and is aware of where their dogs are when they are out in the countryside.

“It’s important, also, for dog owners to make sure their gardens are secure as we’ve seen attacks from dogs getting loose from the home as well.

“We always look to prosecute to prevent future attacks from taking place.”

The government recently supported a bill to give police greater powers to tackle livestock worrying.

The bill was brought forward by former Defra Secretary Thérèse Coffey.

Ms Coffey’s Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill aims to amend the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and has received full backing from the government following its second reading in the Commons.

The bill could see police given more powers to seize dogs after serious incidents and enable officers to take evidence samples from livestock and dogs to assist investigations.

NFU Regional Policy Manager for the East of England Charles Hesketh said: “These proposals are a positive step.

“For many years, the NFU has been working with government and police leaders to agree the proposed legislation giving police more powers to investigate dog attacks on livestock.

“No matter how in control dog owners think they are, they should always remain alert and dogs should always be kept on a lead around livestock.”