The call comes after the National Sheep Association (NSA) annual survey on sheep worrying by dogs, found that fewer than five per cent of sheep farmers receive direct contact from the owners of dogs involved in a sheep worrying attack on their livestock.
More than half the respondents said they found evidence of an attack having taken place rather than being alerted by the dog owner or a witness, which the organisation said suggests animals are often likely to be left suffering and injured for a period of time. This in turns causes extreme distress to the sheep and the farmer.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “It may feel daunting as a dog owner to come forward to a farmer to admit responsibility, but NSA believes that farmers would rather be informed by the dog owners themselves rather than finding injured, or even worse, dead sheep in their fields.
“Sheep worrying by dogs is a crime but openness from the dog owner can mean a more amicable resolution hopefully being achieved and it is better than having to explain a failure to report if the dog is able to be traced.
“Often dog owners simply do not realise their pet is capable of doing so much damage, and while we appreciate this crime is not one that any animal lover would set out to commit, taking responsibility is crucial and could help reduce cases for the future.”
As part of the Government’s new animal welfare bills, the draft Kept Animals Bill proposes giving greater powers for police to trace and gain access to dogs involved in attacks and Mr Stocker said this could create an improved situation for those involved.
The data gathered each year through the survey gives the NSA an insight into the severity of the issue and its impact on the UK sheep industry.
This year has seen an increase in the number of attacks, which is in line with previous years. A majority of the respondents (76 per cent) said they believed cases had increased over the past three years with the increase in dog ownership during the Covid-19 pandemic the perceived cause of the rise in cases.
Mr Stocker said the NSA has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue of sheep worrying by dogs, encouraging sheep farmers to report each case to their local police force, and it said, the message appeared to be working with 81 per cent of respondents saying they now report some, most or all of the attacks they experience.
This increased reporting could be driving an improved response from rural police forces with survey contributors rating police response to reports as 6/10, this figure increasing significantly from ratings of 4/10 in 2021 and 3/10 in 2020.
Losses incurred from dog attacks can be a substantial burden on sheep farmers, with the survey results revealing losses of an average of £1,232 per farmer per year, yet despite this and the rise in reporting of cases many farmers do not pursue compensation for their losses.
“The greatest impact felt for many farmers as a result of sheep worrying by dogs is the stress, anger and anxiety that is experienced as a result of attacks and the fear they will happen again,” said Mr Stocker.
“A full year’s hard work by farmers and shepherds can simply be undone in a matter of minutes.”