Sheep worrying is against the law!


Lambing season is a joyous, if tiring, time for many sheep farmers. It is the product of a long hard year of work.  However with the NFU reporting that the increasing numbers of livestock attacks is costing the agriculture sector an estimated £1.2 million, it is important that farmers know the rights that they have to receive compensation.

With 60% of dog walkers admitting to letting their dog roam off the lead whilst walking, according to an NFU study, livestock worrying is now one of the six focus points of the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Rural Affairs Strategy 2018-2021.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 states that if a dog worries livestock whilst on agricultural land, the owner or the person in charge of the dog, is guilty of a criminal offence.

The term “worrying” is given a wide meaning by the Act. It includes: attacking, chasing in a way to cause reasonable injury, or being at large in a field containing livestock.  In other words, a dog just being off the lead in a field of sheep could create a crime.

Anyone guilty of this offence can face a fine of up to £1,000.  The police can also seize and detain any dog which is reasonably believed to have been worrying livestock.  The dog can be held until the owner is found, at the owner’s expense.

However, farmers can also claim compensation from the owners of the dog under the Animals Act 1971.  A person whose dog worries livestock is liable for the damage.  A farmer can sue the owner and/or the person who was in control of the dog at the time of the attack.

In a recent case, a 41 year old man was ordered to pay £2,100 after his three dogs strayed onto a farm, and worried sheep.  This followed a similar case where a woman lost control of her dog as it savaged two sheep.  She was ordered to pay the farmer £1,000 in compensation.

Finally, farmers have the right to shoot dogs that have attacked livestock, or if it is the only reasonable way of preventing an attack, in certain circumstances.  If the dog is found after an attack and is under control, or the owner can be found, then the farmer should not shoot.  Farmers must report a shooting to the local police within 48 hours.

Livestock worrying is becoming an ever more prevalent problem, which is costing the agricultural sector more and more each year.  Farmers need to know their rights under the law and how to challenge dog owners for compensation.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article and would like to talk to a solicitor in our agricultural team please call 01228 514077.

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