The worry of sheep worrying
There have been reports in the media recently which suggest that sheep worrying is on the increase. One of the most horrifying reports being the death of 116 sheep on a West Sussex farm. Such incidents are both emotionally and financially devastating, but what action can farmers take? In this article we recap the law on sheep worrying.
The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 (‘the Act’) is the principle piece of legislation. There does not necessarily have to be a physical attack, in fact the Act provides a wide definition and includes attacking, chasing in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering, or being at large in an area containing sheep.
It is a criminal offence for a dog to worry sheep on agricultural land.S1, The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 states that “where the owner of the dog and if it is in the charge of a person other than its owner, that person also, shall be guilty of an offence under the Act”.
The Act also contains powers for the police to seize and detain any dog where there is reasonable cause to believe that a dog has been worrying livestock, together with powers to issue a warrant to search property to identify a dog suspected of sheep worrying. Offenders will be penalised on summary conviction with a fine being no more than £1000.
There are a number of defences to the offence under the Act including if the dog is owned by the sheep keeper or the owner of the field, is a police dog, guide dog or working dog, all of which will not be accountable under the Act.
The Animals Act 1971 enables the sheep keeper or farmer to take a civil action against the owner where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock and the liability on the owner of the dog is absolute, however evidence relating to the damage would need to be provided to enable the farmer to demonstrate the level of damages.
Destruction of a dog should always be treated as an action of last resort. The legality of shooting a dog would very much depend on the individual circumstances of each situation and such action could open a farmer up to both criminal and civil proceedings.
For example, dogs are treated as property and therefore it’s shooting could trigger a criminal damage charge. In addition, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to dogs (along with other protected animals). Although there is an allowance for ‘the destruction of an animal in an appropriate and humane manner’, this is very much judged on the circumstances of each case and there is a significant risk that failing to kill the dog cleanly with one shot would fall foul of the legislation. Such an offence is punishable with up to six months’ imprisonment and/or fines of up to £20,000, together with the risk of being disqualified from keeping animals.
There is also a significant risk that the shooting of a dog would give rise to prosecution for firearms offences and would almost certainly give rise to a police review of rights to keep firearms.
It is also important to remember that if a dog is shot it must be reported to the police within 48 hours of the incident, failure to do so would impact on the defences available in both civil and criminal proceedings.
This article was previously published in the June 2016 issue of South East Farmer