The Covid-19 virus has seen both novel and traditional users of the countryside attempt to ease lockdown boredom by visiting beauty spots. Alongside those pandemic specific issues which have affected farming in Wales over the last few months, it remains a sad and frustrating fact that irresponsible dog ownership continues to blight livestock production in Wales.
Despite tremendous industry investment in educational tools and campaigns, many members of the public remain oblivious to the damage that is caused when dogs chase or attack livestock. Worse still are the repeat offenders that completely disregard the emotional, financial and welfare consequences that occur when livestock are the victims of a dog attack.
As a Union, we have taken the decision to move away from the term ‘livestock worrying’ as such a term cannot begin to convey the seriousness of the offense to members of the public and we continue to educate dog walkers on the importance of keeping dogs on a lead near livestock. however, whilst previous campaigns have concentrated heavily on educating dog walkers, data from North Wales police shows that around 80% of attacks actually occur by dogs that have escaped from the home environment due to absent owners or insufficient boundaries.
This data has helped the FUW expand its public messaging and last year we started the ‘Your dog, Your responsibility’ campaign which widened the message
to respecting the countryside, picking up
after your dog, keeping dogs on a lead
near livestock and making sure that dogs don’t escape from home.
Disappointingly, and despite tremendous effort, it remains a fact that education without suitable deterrents will never solve the problem. There are currently four laws that can be used when examining dog attacks on livestock, however all are antiquated and remain completely unfit for purpose.
For example, the 1953 Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act was introduced before DNA could be extracted from a sample and it therefore does not give police forces the power to obtain DNA samples from suspect dogs.
Given that most dog attacks occur in fields with no witnesses, providing police with the power to investigate these crimes is imperative. It is also true that the current laws do not allow for penalties which fit the seriousness of the crime; nor do they allow for adequate compensation for farmers.
On a more positive note, the interest in dog attacks on livestock continues to gain momentum and figures for Wales show that there has been an overall decrease in attacks. Nevertheless, one attack is one too many and only time will tell if the recent decline turns into a longer term trend.
The FUW continues to press for legislative change and we continue to raise this issue at the highest levels. Our list of demands is both clear and simple and can be found above right.
The FUW wants:
• Mandatory recording of dog attacks on livestock by all Welsh police forces (in order to get a true record of the problem)
• Changes to the current limited and outdated fines – currently in Wales it is a non imprisonable offense with a maximum fine of up to £1,000
• Fines levied on offenders should be proportionate and should allow for full compensation to farmers
• Police forces granted the power to obtain DNA samples from suspect dogs
• Powers to confiscate dogs.
• Legal responsibility for dog owner to report an attack within 24 hours to prevent badly injured sheep being left to suffer
• Failure to report an attack should be an offence
• Power to ban an owner from owning another dog
• Powers of dog destruction after conviction with the 1953 act.
Other proposals include:
• A change to the definition of ‘arable land’ as attacks are only enforceable on arable land and if a farmer is moving sheep between fields on a public highway the legislation is not valid
• A wider definition of ‘livestock’ is also needed as certain animals, such as deer, llamas and alpacas, are not covered by the 1953 act
• There also needs to be a proper definition of ‘under close control’ as it applies to dogs being walked near livestock
Whilst there is not one quick fix, it is an affront to Welsh farming that the law remains so ridiculously inadequate and we will continue to lobby until real change has been made.