THE cost of livestock worrying in the south west has risen by 31% from 2022. 

According to a recent survey by rural insurer NFU Mutual, dog attacks on livestock in the South West cost an estimated £359,000 last year. 

The latest survey, released today (Monday, February 26), included more than 1,100 dog owners. It found more people were letting their dogs off leads in the countryside last year than in 2022, 68% and 64% respectively. 

The survey also revealed that less than half (49%) said their pet always comes back when called. 

According to NFU Mutual, almost eight percent admitted their dog chases livestock but 46% believed their dog was not capable of causing the death or injury of farm animals. More than half (54%) felt they did not need to take active measures to prevent their dog from chasing.

Phoebe Turnbull, from NFU Mutual South West, said: “The shocking increase in the cost of dog attacks on livestock is incredibly alarming news for farmers in the South West of England, especially as the 2024 lambing season gets underway and pregnant ewes and newborn lambs are vulnerable.

“We’ve heard reports from farmers about the complacency and naivety of some dog owners who regularly allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside, seemingly unaware of the carnage the dog could cause, then are horrified when an attack happens.

“There have also been incidences where dogs have chased, injured and killed sheep and the owner is nowhere to be seen.

“Farmers are also living in fear of repeat attacks, which cause horrific and needless suffering to livestock and can traumatise all involved dealing with the aftermath.

“All dogs are capable of chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament.

“We’re urging all dog owners to be responsible for their pet and keep them on a lead when walked anywhere near livestock. If there is an attack, it is important people accept responsibility and report it, to a local farmer and the police, so that the injured animals are not left suffering in pain.”

The survey also revealed that if present at an attack, 57% of dog owners would intervene to stop it, 22% would report it to a local farmer and 11% would call the police. 

Across the UK, dog attacks on livestock were estimated to cost £2.4 million last year, up nearly 30% compared to the previous year. In England, the South West region was the worst-hit region by cost, followed by the Midlands (£331,000).

One somerset sheep farm has suffered six dog attacks in just over a year - after 45 years without any incidents. 

Kate Esler and Ed Simmons, of Yew Tree Farm, between Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare, have seen a big rise in the number of dog walkers since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The latest spate of attacks started around Christmas 2022 with the last one occurring just two days before Christmas last year. Some ewes were killed outright, others drowned after being driven by a dog into the drainage ditches or rhynes that cross the farm.

As well as ewes and lambs killed or injured, several of the couple’s valuable pedigree Charollais ewes have aborted their lambs, through the stress of being chased by dogs, affecting the farm’s ability to replace important breeding stock. Two pedigree yearling ewes had to be put down and three more were severely injured in January. 

In total, Kate estimates the value of the farm’s losses as a result of dog attacks in the past 12 months at around £5,000.

Kate explained: “We’ve not been able to catch any of the dogs, or the owners, responsible for these attacks but there are definitely more people using the footpaths. The farm is split by the M5 and the fields the attacks are happening in are on the other side of the motorway.

“I always report the dog attacks to the police, and they have given me signs to put up. We also have our own signs asking people to keep their dogs on a lead when walking through the fields with livestock – but you sometimes see people with dogs and the dog can be two fields away. That’s not what I would call ‘close control.

“Sometimes you can check on the sheep in the morning and they are fine, and you go back a few hours later and discover there has been a dog attack. It is just dreadful coping with the uncertainty and the impact of the attacks.”

Another sheep farmer from near Holsworthy in Devon (who wishes to remain annoymous) has lost up to 80 ewes and lambs in dog attacks. 

The farmer believes making dog owners pay a reasonable sum for a licence might make some irresponsible owners think twice about keeping a dog.

Dog licences were scrapped in England, Scotland and Wales in 1987, but retained in Northern Ireland.

He puts the value of the losses at between £1,200 and £1,600 but said the distress for the flock and the suffering of the ewes caused just as much concern to him and other livestock farmers.

NFU Mutual is calling for dog owners to: 

  • Keep dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle
  • Be aware that all dogs, regardless of size, breed, and temperament, can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals
  • Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers
  • Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby