Out of hour’s service is needed for sheep worrying

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The last number of months has seen a number of high profile occurrences of sheep worrying both in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the United Kingdom.

The serious and often fatal injuries that occur cause great distress for both man and beast on the family farm, while the costs of dealing with the incident can be considerable, whether that be for the value of the lost stock, cost of veterinary care or dead stock removal, amongst other things. These incidents prove particularly problematic where repeat attacks occur.

Recently representatives from the UFU livestock and legislation committees met with the Northern Ireland dog advisory group to discuss this issue. With responsibility for livestock worrying cases now in the hands of the local Councils, this group represents both dog wardens and Environmental Health officers who oversee this work. This was therefore a good opportunity to put across the views of our membership on this serious matter.

Something which the UFU membership has highlighted over the last 12 months is that there can be an inconsistent approach between each of the various Councils, with some of them being more proactive than others. From our point of view we cannot afford this inconsistency, it is important that all Councils take this issue seriously and be proactive in their actions.

One area of particular contention, is the out of hour’s service that Councils provide. Currently the Council has no obligation to investigate out of hours calls in relation to livestock worrying, so if an incident takes place outside normal working hours, at the weekends or on bank holidays, farmers may not get the response they expect. In some cases it can be several days before a farmer is visited by the dog warden.

While the number of livestock worrying cases is statistically small in number, for farmers it is a very serious issue when it happens and which demands an urgent response time. Where this doesn’t happen there is a much greater chance of a repeat attack and it also puts farmers in an awkward situation should they need to approach a neighbouring dog owner.

To help avert situations like this, the UFU has called on the NI dog advisory group to address this with each of the local Councils by considering the introduction of an out of hour’s service specifically for exceptional circumstances such as dog attacks on humans or livestock. While Councils may argue that budgets are tight and they can’t afford this, we would suggest that they consider introducing an out of hour’s officer who can cover two or maybe even three Council areas with the sole purpose of responding to these serious issues. This would help share the cost of a service which would be valued by local farmers.

From a positive point of view the NI dog advisory group believes that the incidence of sheep worrying is reducing and the UFU recognise that there are some very good dog wardens working in our community, however we cannot rest on our laurels and we must continue to look at ways in which the Council’s service can be improved and awareness of responsible dog ownership highlighted.