UK farmers facing £2.4m cost of livestock worrying

As Easter traditionally brings an increase in visitors to the countryside, farmers are being warned to stay vigilant and take measures to protect their sheep and lambs.

The warning comes as the latest figures from rural insurer NFU Mutual reveal that in 2023 alone, farm animals worth £2.4m were severely injured or killed by dogs across the UK – a figure that is up by nearly 30% on the previous year.

A recent survey by the insurer also found that more people are letting their dogs off the lead in the countryside – even though 49% of pets do not reliably recall.

See also: Devon farmer devastated after 43 sheep killed by dogs

Farmer Pauline Mitchell, from Banffshire, has struggled with dog attacks on livestock for many years.

Despite installing hundreds of metres of double fences, and growing thick hedges to separate walkers from livestock, she still regularly faces out of control dogs.

The worst attack happened 15 years ago when two spaniels rampaged through the grazing fields killing 28 sheep.

“It’s a continual problem – we’re in a spot which is very popular with walkers, and many let their dogs roam free despite us having livestock in the fields,” she said.

“People still encourage their dogs to get into the fields to run round while they walk on the fenced paths – it’s very frustrating.

“They can’t seem to grasp that all dogs have an instinct to attack grazing animals and even chasing them can cause serious injuries.”

NSA advice

National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker says he has seen farmers take a range of measures to protect their stock, including one of the NSA next-generation ambassadors who has created a designated fenced area where dogs can be safely let off the lead. 

To try and decrease incidences of livestock worrying, ”good and polite signage” is essential, advises Mr Stocker.

“Farmers should be using signs – to use them is a really valuable thing and a lot of people say that they help.”

To avoid the public becoming numb to signage, Mr Stocker says, in some situations it helps to take those signs down when sheep are not around.

“Don’t just put signs up on gate posts and stiles, but put signs on a board that you can hammer into the ground – and then remove when the sheep aren’t there.”

Stay calm

Speaking to dog walkers in a calm environment is also advised. 

“I think it does help for farmers to engage with dog walkers in a polite fashion, to talk to them and explain the risks of dogs that are out of control.”

For farmers who have sadly experienced a case of livestock worrying, Mr Stocker says that it is important to report the issue to the police. 

“The police are starting to listen a lot more, but they can’t do anything unless there is some record of these cases,” he explains. 

See more