STRAYING or unaccompanied dogs are responsible for 40% of dog attacks on sheep, according to a National Sheep Association survey of affected farmers.

The results, garnered from sheep farmers across the UK, show no let-up in the ongoing problem with marauding canines in livestock fields, where a spate of incidents has bloodily damaged not only sheep welfare, but also rural livelihoods, with several lamb crops devastated shortly after birth.

A big part of the problem, according to 72% of respondents, is that dog owners firmly believe that their pet isn't the kind that will do any damage to livestock. However, a further 62% of the farmers surveyed reckoned that a plain old lack of concern from pet owners played a big part too.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Domestic dogs attacking sheep is sadly an ongoing crime without an easy solution, but to keep talking about it and gathering evidence at every opportunity goes a long way in continuing to highlight the problem.

"It is vital for dog owners to realise that any dog, no matter how well trained, is capable of attacking livestock and the effects stretch far further than the initial and obvious injuries.”

In reported cases of dog attacks, 63% and 67% respectively resulted in death or injury, but nearly half the farmers also noted loss of production, as a result of abortion in pregnant ewes. A further 43% reported that sheep had to be put down in the months after an attack, while nearly 40% reported that ewes that escaped an attack apparently unscathed later lost their lambs due to mis-mothering.

Police figures, obtained by the NSA's annual Freedom of Information request, continue to highlight a rise in the number of reported dog attacks on sheep, but the association believes the true extent of the problem is much higher still – just 40% of its survey respondents said they reported every incident to the police, of which just 18% and 17% were given a crime reference number or crime incident number as a result.

Mr Stocker concluded: “If we are to build up an accurate picture of the true scale of the problem, it is vital that those who’ve experienced an attack on their livestock report it to the police and ask for a crime or incident number.

"We have to continue to put pressure on police forces to deal with this crime in a serious and consistent way and if they haven’t the resources to do that, then we need to help them build evidence that they are not keeping up with reported crimes. I am afraid that we are hearing of police forces that are making the right noises but still not responding effectively,” he added.

Further details on the survey results and dog worrying can be found at www.nationalsheep.org.uk/dog-owners

For in-depth news and views on Scottish agriculture, see this Friday’s issue of The Scottish Farmer or visit www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk

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