Sheep worrying by dogs is causing around 85% of affected farmers to experience elevated levels of anxiety and stress, a survey conducted by the National Sheep Association (NSA) has revealed.
The questionnaire of 233 sheep farmers across the UK shows just how serious the repercussions of dog attacks on flocks can be, with 85% of respondents listing stress as one of the main impacts on them and their flock. While the cost and extra time needed to deal with attacks was also highlighted, a worrying trend about the personal impact was revealed – 46% of farmers surveyed listed anxiety about spending time away from their farm, 35% said it had a negative impact on their family/social life, 30% cited depression and 24% went as far as to say they had considered giving up sheep farming. When asked what the single most damaging impact was, the most frequent answer was living with the anxiety of another attack.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “Highlighting and raising awareness of this issue is a major remit for NSA, which is why we have gathered this evidence. In no way do we want to discourage people from getting out and enjoying the great British countryside, but it is vital that everyone appreciates any dog is capable of carrying out an attack on livestock if it is off the lead or left to roam unsupervised. The impact attacks have on the welfare of sheep is huge, but what this survey has revealed for the first time is the wider implications on farmers and their families.”
Adding to the stress linked to dog worrying, the farmers surveyed revealed the unpredictable situation they find themselves in when asking a dog walker to abide by the law and keep their dog on a lead. The survey showed 30% receiving a mixture of positive and negative responses from dog owners and 25% only receiving negative responses. Just under half (44%) described this negative response as verbal abuse. In line with previous NSA findings, the survey also shows the majority of attacks occur in private or enclosed fields with no public footpath or right of way.
Police figures continue to highlight a rise in the number of reported sheep worrying cases and NSA believes this is just the tip of the iceberg. The survey suggests only 34% of farmers affected report every incident, meaning the vast number of attacks go unreported. In addition, only 39% of survey respondents who had reported a case to the police were given a crime reference or incidence number logging the crime.
Mr Stocker concludes: “We know the majority of dog owners enjoy the countryside responsibly and that the horrific damage dog attacks can cause are isolated to a small number of people. But the impact of some dog walkers not using a lead is huge – we know many sheep are killed and injured by dogs, ewes are caused to miscarry their unborn lambs and newborn lambs are separated from their mothers. The figures obtained as a result of this third survey also show that the impact is on the people involved as well as the sheep. We urge walkers to keep their dog on a lead at all times around sheep, and for dogs to never be allowed to roam unsupervised.”
All of NSA’s survey results, as well as the extensive work it has carried out on this issue, can be viewed at www.sheepworrying.org.uk.