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‘Harrowing’ dog attacks on sheep costing farmers millions of pounds a year

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Farmer Oliver East is losing sheep to deadly dog attacks every week.

This winter alone, more than 20 of his sheep have been killed – the last attack only days ago.

Mr East, from Buckinghamshire, told Sky News he discovered one of his ewes dead near a footpath.

“Its back legs were severely mauled, it had its ears pulled off, and its throat was pulled out,” he said.

“It’s becoming a weekly occurrence, if not twice a week now.”

Not only do these incidents carry an emotional impact, but they also have significant financial implications.

Increasing numbers of deadly dog attacks on livestock are forcing farmers to “change the way they live and farm”, leading rural insurer NFU Mutual has warned, costing the industry millions of pounds a year.

Mr East estimates that with each sheep that is killed, he loses £500.

“If it carries on the way it is going, I am already looking at potentially downsizing my ewe flock, which is already a financial loss to me,” he said.

“I just can’t mentally and physically go through losing this many ewes. It’s mentally debilitating.”

Sheep at a farm in Buckinghamshire
Image:
Dog attacks on sheep cost British farmers millions a year

‘Harrowing’ incidents cost industry millions

Even attacks that don’t lead to death can be distressing.

The stress of being chased by dogs can cause death, and can result in pregnant ewes aborting their lambs.

Dog attacks on livestock cost the industry more than a million pounds every year.

Last year, the cost of dog attacks on livestock cost £1.8m, up from £1.3m in 2020, according to NFU Mutual data.

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, told Sky News: “Sadly, we hear harrowing accounts of these types of cases every other day.

“Behind those figures, there’s obviously tremendous concern for farmers and their livelihoods – also the emotional impact for them.

“Many of them are being forced to change the way they live and farm.”

Read more:
What’s behind rise in deadly dog attacks

Sheep at a farm in Buckinghamshire

‘A lot of irresponsible dog owners’

It’s hoped that changes in legislation will be pivotal in helping improve the situation.

In June 2021, the government announced new measures in its Kept Animals Bill to provide police with more powers in protecting livestock from dangerous dogs.

If the legislation is passed, police will be able to seize dogs and have more power to enter premises to find culprits.

Rob Taylor, from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, told Sky News: “There’s a lot of livestock out there, a lot of sheep out there, a lot of dogs out there as well, but there are also a lot of irresponsible dog owners.

“Once we can strengthen that law, I think things will fall in place much better.”

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A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “We take the issue of livestock worrying very seriously and recognise the distress this can cause farmers and animals, as well as the financial implications – and the launch of our Action Plan for Animal Welfare will help address this.

“In response to recent reports on the issue, new measures to crack down on livestock worrying in England and Wales will be brought in through the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.”

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