Farmers are blaming irresponsible dog ownership (and breeding) which in part is due to the surge in dog adoptions during the pandemic lockdowns. It is thought that these dog adopters are not fully prepared for the role of dog caretaker so it appears that they are partly to blame for what is a large increase in dog attacks on sheep. About two thirds of dog owners said that they let their dog roam off the lead in the countryside and many of them have no idea where the dog had been. About 3 million households have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic and, in all, there are about 12 million dogs in the UK according to an estimate by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.
Police have been called out to more than 1100 incidents of sheep-worrying in 2020 which is an increase from 800 in 2018. We can thank the Farmers Guardian who requested the information under a Freedom of information request.
NFU Mutual, the leading farm insurer, estimates that the number of attacks had risen by up to 50% in the first three months of 2020 based on claims data. Claims in 2020 were up 10.2% over those in 2019.
On a farm in Monmouthshire, in January, 50 ewes and up to 100 unborn lambs died in a dog attack. Eighteen were killed in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, also in January and 15 were killed on a Gloucestershire farm in December last year.
Farmers are concerned and they believe that the dogs were not fully trained and neither were they fully socialised. They believe that the pandemic lockdowns have contributed because there has been an increase in sheep-worrying over this period according to a survey by the National Sheep Association.
In Scotland, the government has introduced tougher laws including fines of up to £40,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment or both for letting a dog chase or kill livestock. Farmers in the remainder of the UK want these sorts of laws introduced.
Rebecca Davidson, a rural affairs specialist that NFU Mutual, said that another factor might be the increase in visitors to the countryside and that the attacks on sheep was devastating for the industry which has worked so hard to feed the nation during this difficult time. She mentioned that farmers have become anxious and that the attacks can damage breeding programmes which can take many years to recover.