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Livestock Worrying by Dogs

View profile for Rebecca Ironmonger
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Livestock worrying by dogs costs British farmers millions of pounds every year and causes an immense amount of distress to farmers and their animals. Most issues are caused by ignorant, irresponsible, or uncaring dog owners who do not know how to control their dogs in the countryside or do not appreciate that any dog, no matter its temperament can worry livestock if let off the lead in a field where animals are grazing. Here, Rebecca Ironmonger of Roythornes’ Regulatory Team advises on the current law in England and Wales and provides some further tips if you find yourself a victim of livestock worrying.

What is the law which applies to livestock worrying?

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 applies to sheep worrying. Under section 1 of the 1953 Act, the owner or person in charge of a dog which worries livestock commits an offence, which in England and Wales could attract a fine of up to £1,000 plus costs and any compensation order made.

“Worrying livestock” means (1) attacking livestock, (2) chasing livestock in such a way which could reasonably cause to the animal injury, suffering, abortion or loss or reduction in the animal’s produce eg milk or (3) being at large in a field/enclosure where there are sheep i.e. not being on a lead or under close control. This only applies to livestock on agricultural land, where there is a right for the animals to be on that land i.e. the animals are not trespassing.

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will strengthen the law on livestock worrying if it gets Royal Assent. This will include increased fines, more powers for the police and a wider description of the land the law will cover. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go before it becomes law, if ever.

Can you legally shoot a dog which is worrying your livestock?

Yes, but…only where (1) the dog is an immediate danger to your livestock and (2) there is no other reasonable option. Shooting an attacking dog should be a last resort.  If the dog has already left the vicinity of your animals, you cannot lawfully shoot it. 

Can you get compensation if a defendant is prosecuted for sheep worrying?

When a defendant is found guilty of an offence and loss has been caused to the victim of the crime, the Court must consider making a Compensation Order – which is an order by the Court requiring a convicted defendant to compensate the victim for the losses caused by the crime committed.

You need to tell the police that you want compensation to be considered and provide details of the losses you suffered. The police officer in charge of your case will then make the application to the court. The earlier you tell the police you want compensation the better.

Can you sue the owner of the dog which worried your livestock?

Simply, yes you can. But you need to know who owns the dog and have sufficient evidence to make a claim, if your case went to court. It would most likely be in the small claims track of the County Court and may not be cost effective to instruct a solicitor to deal with your claim, if your losses are less than £10,000. Check if you have legal expenses insurance and whether you would be covered for this type of claim.

You could also apply for an injunction to prevent the person who owns the dog from allowing the dog near your livestock. This is costly and in practice is only of benefit where the attacks are regularly repeated and the losses are significant.

Top 5 Tips for farmers with livestock at risk of worrying

  1. Sure up any existing measures you have in place to protect your animals – prevention is better than cure. This could include locks on gates and clear signage asking dog walkers to place dogs on leads in the of the presence of your animals.
  2. Where worrying has happened CALL THE POLICE
  3. Gather your own evidence. Don’t rely on the police to do this.  If you have photographs, CCTV footage, vet reports etc, collate these and provide them to the police and keep a copy yourself. This is one of the most important bits – most prosecutions are not started or fail because of lack of evidence.
  4. Keep a careful note of any financial losses you have sustained.
  5. Get legal advice.

Our specialist team of agricultural litigation lawyers are always happy to help. For any queries on livestock worrying or if you have been a victim of it, please give us a call.