Dog on a lead in a field with sheep(C) REX/FLPA / John Eveson

Dog owners are being urged to keep their pets under control as the lambing season kicks off.

Police forces across the UK have called on dog owners to reduce the risk of sheep miscarrying this season in rural areas by keeping their dogs on leads.

Owners can be prosecuted if their pets are let off their leads while in a farmer’s field or enclosed space with sheep present.

See also: Your legal rights on shooting dogs on your land

“Remember that our animals are our livelihood and we can’t risk having them distressed, hurt or killed by dogs with irresponsible owners. So, be responsible by following a few simple dos and don’ts and back British farming.”
Charles Sercombe, NFU

And farmers are within their rights to shoot and kill dogs if they are deemed to be causing distress to flocks, as such attacks can often lead to huge financial losses.

PC Michael Laidlow, of Kent Police’s rural taskforce, said: “As we enter the lambing season it is especially important people know what can happen if their dogs run loose and kill or injure livestock.

“Sheep represent a farmer’s income and are often worth a substantial sum. If attacked, the veterinary bills farmers face can leave them substantially out of pocket.

Facts about sheep worrying

  • Under the Animals Act 1971, a person acting to protect livestock may be able to kill or injure a dog that he/she reasonably believes is “worrying” without incurring any criminal or civil liability
  • As a dog owner or a person for the time being in charge of a dog, you could be committing an offence if your pet worries livestock on agricultural land
  • Worrying includes attacking or chasing livestock in a way that might reasonably be expected to cause injury, suffering or los
  • It is also an offence to have a dog in a field or enclosed space where there are sheep when the dog is not on a lead or under close control.

“If sheep worrying is proved, it can mean the dog owner or person in charge being sued for damages to recompense that loss.

“By ensuring dogs are kept under control when sheep or other livestock are present, owners can significantly reduce the chances of any of the animals involved coming to harm.”

Livestock worrying by dogs is estimated to cost the industry at least £1.2m a year. The NFU’s Love Your Countryside campaign is highlighting the issue.

NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said: “Farms are working environments and farmers always think very carefully about where they keep their livestock at this time of the year. So if you’re out walking your dog, please be sympathetic, especially to those animals rearing their young, and give them space.

“When walking with dogs in fields with livestock, the advice is to keep your dog close, under effective control, and on a short lead. If you feel threatened, release your dog so you can both get to safety separately.

“Remember that our animals are our livelihood and we can’t risk having them distressed, hurt or killed by dogs with irresponsible owners. So, be responsible by following a few simple dos and don’ts and back British farming.”

Anyone who witnesses sheep being chased or attacked should call 101 immediately.