New anti-sheep worrying bill wins full government support

Tougher laws to clamp down on sheep worrying are back on the agenda, with a new private members’ bill aimed at giving the police more powers, receiving full government backing.

Previously, in June 2021, the government had introduced a new Kept Animals Bill, which would have replaced existing laws dating back to 1953.

But that bill was scrapped last year because of government concerns about “scope-creep”, leaving the sheep sector in limbo.

See also: Petitions seek law change on packs of hounds that worry sheep

However, former Defra secretary Therese Coffey has now sponsored a new Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill, which received full government backing following its second reading in parliament on Friday (2 February).

This will amend existing legislation to:

  • enable police to seize and detain a dog if they believe it has attacked or worried livestock
  • allow the police to take DNA samples or impressions from a dog or livestock to provide evidence of an attack
  • authorise police to enter and search premises to collect evidence
  • extend the places covered by the law to include roads and paths
  • expand the scope of livestock covered to include llamas and alpacas.

The legislation will cover England and Wales only, and will retain the current maximum fine for sheep worrying at £1,000.


Defra farming minister Mark Spencer said: “Livestock worrying has a devastating impact, causing distress to farmers and their animals, as well as the financial implications.

“This bill will crack down on this issue and we will do all we can to support its swift passage through parliament.”

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said it was a “welcome step forward”, and would hopefully give the police “impetus” to take the crime more seriously.

“But we are disappointed that there is no change to the maximum fine that can be imposed,” he added. “That is a missed opportunity – especially as it now stands at £40,000 in Scotland.

“Even if that maximum is never actually applied, it still acts as a real deterrent.”

Human incursions

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers added that, given the changes that have occurred since the original 1953 Act, the definition of “worrying” should be extended to all farmed livestock and include the actions of humans.

“We believe that incursion onto farms, and specifically into sheds where pigs and poultry are housed, must now be included in the definition of livestock worrying,” said a spokesman.

“Furthermore, that must not be restricted just to farmed land, but include other places where livestock are gathered, such as at livestock markets and in the lairage at abattoirs.”

NSA reveals scale of the problem

The latest National Sheep Association survey, published in February 2023, found that 70% of respondents had suffered at least one sheep worrying incident in the previous 12 months, with most involving a single dog injuring or killing multiple sheep.

Only 14% of respondents were alerted by the offending dog owner, with the majority left to discover the evidence or alerted by someone else.