Despite extensive media coverage of the issue, dogs continue to cause serious problems for farmers. Owners are once again being urged to ensure that their pets are under control when near livestock. Spring is a busy time for farmers and their fields are full of vulnerable lambs. Following a spate of serious attacks by dogs, farmers are now calling for a change in the law.
Severe Penalties for Dog Owners Required
Farmers do not believe that the current methods of dealing with out of control dogs is working. The penalties for owners whose dogs worry or attack livestock simply aren’t severe enough, they say. For their part, the police feel that the law needs to be clearer.
The current situation is that local authorities use Dog Control Orders to make owners accountable. But farmers believe that the implementation of these measures is not consistent across the country. Some owners get off much more lightly than others when their dogs attack livestock. A study by an UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare found that an estimated 15,000 sheep were killed by dogs in a single year. The cost to the farming industry of these attacks would have been at least £1.6m.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act
Problems for farmers increased following The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, known as the CRoW Act. This legislation covering England and Wales came into force on 30 November 2000. Similar legislation for Scotland followed. The Act implements the so-called “right to roam” which the Ramblers’ Association and its predecessors had been pursuing for years. Ramblers were given the right to traverse certain upland and uncultivated areas which are privately owned. Some areas which had been the subject of dispute for many years became accessible under the Act.
Dogs on open access land
When walking on open access land the following rules apply to dogs:
- You must keep your dog on a lead no more than 2 metres long between 1 March and 31 July – to protect ground-nesting birds and at all times around livestock.
- On land next to the England Coast Path you must keep your dog under close control.
- There may be other local or seasonal restrictions. These don’t apply to public rights of way or assistance dogs.
Many farmers feel that enforcement processes have not kept pace with the public’s increasing access to farmland. Farmers have the right to shoot dogs which trouble their livestock but do not want to be put in the position of having to exercise that right. They understand that when a dog is out of control it is not the fault of the dog. The guilty party is the owner and the farmers are not allowed to shoot them!
Lambs are extremely vulnerable to dog attacks and pregnant sheep may suffer serious complications if frightened by dogs. It is vital that dog owners keep their dog under control when around livestock.