This spring I wrote in the magazine about how sheep attacks were on the rise, as wayward dogs were becoming an increasing problem for farmers. Sadly, since I wrote the piece in March, the problem hasn’t got any better. Pictures of sheep that have been either mauled or killed by family pets still appear constantly on my social media feeds, and over the summer numerous dogs have had to be shot by farmers to stop them attacking their livestock.
Things have got so bad in some places that in Wiltshire, for example, the National Trust has been forced to ban dogs from some of the areas it looks after close to Stonehenge. It’s a shame for dog walkers, but as Jan Tomlin of the National Trust explained: ‘A dog either worrying or attacking sheep is a crime, but despite this we’ve had an extended and particularly horrible period of sheep worrying with lambs being very badly injured on Trust land over the last month or so.’
So what’s the answer? Education is the obvious first step, and it’s one that is already being tested. The ‘Take the lead’ campaign is aimed at primary school children and provides teachers with an online toolkit to help them teach pupils about farming and how attacks on sheep affect farmers. The NFU, in conjunction with the Kennel Club, have produced signs for farmers to put up, asking dog-owners to keep their dogs on leads and warning of the dangers of not doing so. And the police have been trying hard to raise awareness as well. In June, the North Wales rural crime team ‘live tweeted’ their response to a dog attack, which they say is ‘the biggest issue facing rural police’.
Viewer discretion advised… pic.twitter.com/EHaBldRcOL
— RuralCrimeTeam™ (@NWPRuralCrime) June 26, 2017
But despite the best attempts of farmers, landowners and the police, many people are so convinced that their pet would never hurt anyone or anything that despite the warnings, they still don’t keep their dogs on leads. Perhaps the only answer is to have a picture of a mauled sheep on the front cover of the Daily Mail every single day. Sadly, I can’t see that happening.
There is some hope on the horizon, though. Police Scotland say that the number of sheep-worrying incidents in their region has reduced by 40% after a three-month campaign aimed at teaching dog owners about the danger their pets pose to farm animals. And five UK police forces are due to go to parliament at the end of this year to present their argument for police to have more powers to stop dog attacks as part of a new, updated Protection of Livestock Act. Until then, though, it’s all about education, education, education, and reminding people that anyone’s dog can get overexcited and attack livestock, no matter how well it behaves at home. If it’s a choice between keeping my dog on a lead and my dog being shot, I know which one I’d choose.