Sheep farmers welcome new police powers to tackle dog attacks

East Ruston farmer Will de Feyter with his flock of sheep, which has repeatedly been attacked by dogs 

East Ruston farmer Will de Feyter with his flock of sheep, which has repeatedly been attacked by dogs  - Credit: Archant

Police are set to be handed new powers to crack down on dog attacks on farm animals - a recurring threat which has caused misery for many East Anglian sheep farmers.

New measures to tackle livestock worrying were set out in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, introduced to Parliament this week.

They include improved powers to help police to respond to incidents which can result in significant injury or suffering and death to farm animals, and cause distress and financial costs for their keepers. They include:

  • Increasing powers for the police to seize dogs after particularly serious incidents, if the dog poses an ongoing risk to livestock. Currently, the police can only seize a dog to identify the owner, and it has to be returned to the owner afterwards.
  • A new power to take samples from livestock and dogs suspected of an offence. Currently, most cases of livestock worrying are not prosecuted due to a lack of evidence.
  • Modifying powers of entry, so police can enter premises to identify and seize dogs or evidence.
  • Increasing the number of livestock species and locations covered by the law.

One farmer who welcomed the announcement was Will de Feyter, whose family farms at East Ruston near North Walsham, and has seen a dozen of his sheep injured or killed in nine separate incidents over the last seven years.

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He said: "This is all very positive. If the police can put this into action it will make a real difference. 

"It is soul destroying for animals you have put many years of work into to be pulled apart by a dog - it is very hard to describe. Nine times out of ten there is no-one there when you find them, so there is not much the police can do."

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Mr de Feyter added that, regardless of new police powers, dog walkers should understand the potential threat their pets pose to livestock when let off the lead. 

"Any dog is capable of worrying sheep," he said. "It might be a lovely family pet but they are all capable of it. The sooner people realise that, the less it will happen."

Stuart Roberts, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) also welcomed the move to strengthen the law around "horrific" dog attacks, but added that he wanted the government to implement increased fines and "a clear rule that dogs should always be on a lead around livestock".

"We believe the current wording that a dog has to be under ‘close control’ around livestock causes confusion for dog owners, farmers and the police,” he said.

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