Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has revealed that there were 692 recorded attacks of dogs worrying livestock across Northern Ireland over the last five years.
He has claimed, however, that the actual figures are likely to be much higher as many incidents go unreported.
Mr Swann said: “Dog attacks occur all year long, but it is this time of year when ewes have lambs at foot, or are very close to lambing, that farmers are even on more alert for such incidents.
“Even the most placid family pet can succumb to instincts. It’s every dogs nature to want to chase, and even if they don’t catch the sheep the stress caused by the commotion can often cause sheep to miscarry lambs.
“Of course livestock don’t always die as a result of physical attacks – some are killed during their panicked attempts to escape. Untold damage to fences and hedging can also be caused by fleeing animals.”
Mr Swann explained he had contacted the PSNI and asked them to spell out exactly how many incidents of dogs worrying livestock were reported to them. He added that he was ‘shocked’ to have been told that over the last five years there were 692 recorded incidents.
He continued: “In 2014 there were 129 incidents, 2015 – 132, 2016 – 147, 2017 – 139, 2018 – 145.
“In all likelihood however the actual number of incidents is likely to be far higher as many farmers that I have spoken to about the issue see little point in even reporting attacks on their land. Whilst I would urge any farmer who is a victim of such an incident to report it, I can understand why many question the point of doing so until the PSNI actually start clamping down on reckless dog owners.
“I want people to be able to go out and enjoy the country, including by taking their pets out for walks, but they must do so responsibly. They wouldn’t tolerate it if someone else’s pet came onto their private property and saw them destroy their belongings, so farmers shouldn’t be expected to tolerate it either.
“There already is a raft of legislation that makes it clear that the owners of the dogs are responsible for their actions. Under the Dogs Order 1983, it is an offence to allow a dog on any land containing livestock unless the dog is under control.
“In fact, under the Access to the Countryside Order 1983, members of the public are not even meant to go out into the open countryside with a dog that is not under proper control.
“Anyone taking their dogs out in rural areas therefore are already under a legal obligation to keep them under close control. If they don’t, and their animal attacks livestock, then they must be prepared to pay the consequences.”