Kent Police have already spoken to one woman following a recent incident and have reminded dog owners to “act responsibly and keep their pets on a lead around livestock and wildlife”.
But for Matthew Cullen, who grazes his 20 cows and calves at foot at Shakespeare Cliff, just outside Dover, in support of the Samphire Hoe conservation grazing scheme, the time may soon come for action rather than words.
“Some of the people walking their dogs on the cliffs are stupid and ignorant. I’ve confronted three people with dogs off the lead even though there are signs on every footpath pointing out that there are animals grazing. I now carry a gun when checking on the herd and I will have no hesitation in putting a dog down if it is chasing my livestock,” he said.
While obviously worried about the impact of another dog attack on his cattle, Matthew is also keen to point out the wider dangers. “The field they are in slopes steeply down to the main A20,” he said. “If frightened cattle ran down the hill, the fence at the bottom would have no chance of stopping them and they would be in the road.”
Local Ranger Paul Holt said that while “99.9%” of local walkers were “great people who respect the local environment, behave really well and love the cattle”, it was odd individuals who caused an issue by allowing their dogs to run free.
“The Longhorn cattle are amazing to see. They are placid, lovely creatures that are really enjoyed by the people who see them. It’s just sad that a few people are less aware of the danger their animals can cause,” he added.
A spokesman from Kent Police said the force had “received a report at 12.41pm on Tuesday 17 August 2021 that a dog had been seen worrying cattle in the Samphire Hoe area of Dover earlier in the day. Officers spoke to the livestock owner and enquiries are ongoing into the incident”. The force later said enquiries were “ongoing” into the identity of the dog owner.
Matthew Cullen said he had earlier had a problem with children chasing Longhorn calves, which currently make up just under half of the 37-strong herd.
He later suffered at least two incidents of off-lead dogs chasing his animals, though none has yet been bitten. One cow went lame after being chased but has now fully recovered, and Matthew is worried that it’s only a matter of time before a serious attack harms one of his animals, perhaps fatally.
“A lot of townies just don’t understand the value of livestock,” he said. “There is a bull with the herd and so the cows can be in calf and can abort if they are frightened.
“There are five or six footpaths across the meadow and I don’t have a problem with walkers using those or with dogs on a lead. And it’s certainly not the dogs’ fault – it’s their instinct to play or chase something if it’s running away. It’s just the owners’ stupidity and downright ignorance that causes the issue.”
Matthew, who farms at Animal Farm, Staple, believes the dog walker spoken to recently had also been confronted two months earlier but had claimed that it didn’t matter as the cattle “were at the other end of the field”.
He said that after the police had “read her the riot act”, she told them that he couldn’t shoot her dog, but that they had confirmed that if it was worrying livestock he could do so. “And I won’t hesitate if it happens again,” he said. “Sometimes the only way to learn is the hard way.”
Livestock worrying is a criminal offence and comes under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. It is defined as a situation in which a dog attacks or chases livestock causing injury or suffering.
Kent Police’s own website points out: “This isn’t just a threat to a farmer or landowner’s livelihood, it’s also a dangerous situation for the animals involved, and could lead to more risk if the animals get onto the road” and adds: “A farmer is allowed to kill the dog if it’s worrying their livestock.”
DEFRA has announced that new measures to crack down on livestock worrying will be introduced in England and Wales through the Kept Animals Bill that began its journey through the legislative process in June.