Dog attacks stop sheep grazing South Downs

News Posted 28/02/20
Repeated dog attacks are stopping some South Downs farmers, including West Sussex NFU chair Caroline Harriott from grazing sheep on hundreds of acres of pasture.

The news comes as new NFU Mutual figures reveal out of control dogs are continuing to cause carnage in the region with attacks on livestock costing £136,000 last year – an 87% rise on the previous year.

“Over the last decade we have had over 100 sheep killed or injured in attacks,” said Mrs Harriott, West Sussex NFU chair, who runs a flock of 600 ewes and rears lambs near Arundel.

The most recent attack was 17 February when a professional dog walker took five dogs onto Caroline’s tenanted land near Sompting. One of the dogs, a Siberian Husky, slipped its lead and went on to savagely attack two sheep. One lamb was so badly maimed it was put down by the vet the same day and another had its ear torn off and a severely wounded leg.

“It’s heart breaking to get a phone call and rush to the field and find the aftermath of an attack – sheep killed, others so badly injured they have to be put down, sheep in absolute terror after being chased round the fields and sheep so stressed they lose their unborn lambs.

“Another attack was filmed by a member of the public and the image of our sheep being chased round and round the field and repeatedly pushed into fences by the attacking dog is locked in my mind. It was another case (there have been too many) of one of my sheep being so badly wounded it couldn’t be saved.”

Despite education campaigns and signs asking dog walkers to keep their pets on leads around livestock fields, Caroline says the issue is getting worse. She had bought a flock of rare breed sheep to graze conservation land on the Downs.

“It’s hugely popular with dog walkers because of the beauty of the area – but we had so many worrying incidents that we have had to take the sheep off that land.

“It’s not just sheep that are being put at risk, one of the key conservation projects in the South Downs National Park is protecting the habitat of ground-nesting birds.

“There are now so many dogs running loose on the Downs every day that the birds don’t stand a chance of successfully raising chicks.”

Caroline, and other local farmers regularly meet with police and their MP to keep up pressure to provide rural policing services and push for new legislation. She fears the growing trend for dog owners to leave their pets in the care of professional dog walkers during the day is leading to more attacks.

“Professional dog walkers who walk large numbers of dogs at any one time have become a major problem,” she said. “Under the present law one person can take up to six dogs out. To my mind, there’s no way one person can keep six dogs under control in the countryside – even picking up the dog mess is practically impossible.

“We need new legislation to bring a workable balance between the dog-owning public and farming. The present, laws simply don’t address the problems we are dealing with day-in, day-out.”


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