The National Sheep Association (NSA) raised the profile of sheep worrying by dogs, a crime affecting many flock keepers throughout the UK, by attending the National Police Chief Council (NPCC) Rural Crime Summit.
The summit, which saw the NPCC launch its new rural affairs strategy, provided opportunity for NSA to engage with police officers from a large number of UK police forces to increase understanding of sheep worrying by dogs and strengthen relationships. This is part of ongoing NSA work to ensure more police forces treat sheep worrying as the serious rural crime that it is, hopefully bringing more prosecutions in the future to act as a deterrent.
NSA Communications Officer Eleanor Phipps said: “The event was an excellent opportunity for NSA to speak directly to the police constables, sergeants and inspectors who are on the frontline of tackling rural crime. Most of these officers are specifically dedicated to rural affairs in their respective police forces and are keen to work with NSA to find ways to tackle this problem.
“A large concern for them was that often sheep worrying cases get passed to general officers, as there are more of these than there are rural crime officers, and so they stressed to us the importance of our members asking for a rural crime officer when reporting dog worrying incidents to the police. These officers are specifically trained in this area so are best placed to deal with and prosecute on rural crimes.”
NSA is part of the Livestock Offences Rural Affairs Delivery Group, made up of stakeholders and experts to advise NPCC on best practice for tackling specific crimes, and therefore supports the new rural affairs strategy. As well as work by the Livestock Offences Group on sheep worrying by dogs, it sets out a three-year forward plan for tackling rural crimes around farm machinery, plant and vehicle theft, fuel theft, equine crime, fly tipping and poaching.
NSA is working with SheepWatch UK as well as the Livestock Offences Group to support the NPCC’s proposed amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act that will give police the power to tackle sheep worrying offences more effectively. However, NSA is clear these changes will only happen if the rural community ensures its reports every offence to the police, no matter how small.
Miss Phipps continues: “Many of the officers we spoke to said they were concerned a large number of crimes are not reported, some because of distrust of the police, and some because people did not want to bother them over a small offence. With sheep worrying by dogs, we will only see legislative changes made if the official statistics more accurately portray the magnitude of the problem; under-reporting allows it to be brushed under the carpet as not serious enough to warrant action.
“Many other rural crimes relate to bigger organised crime groups and all reports, however minor the incident, help to build a bigger picture. The police want to get better at addressing rural crime but can only do so if we work with them and report everything.”