Sheep worrying has been reported as the most frequently occurring rural crime according to most recent survey carried out by the National Sheep Association (NSA).

Attacks on sheep flocks by dogs continue to hit farmers, impacting animal health and welfare and farmers’ livelihoods and mental wellbeing.

Following from the recent survey of rural police crime teams, NSA has launched its annual sheep worrying by dogs awareness campaign. The campaign aims to highlight the severity of the issue, increasing awareness amongst dog owners of the importance of keeping their pets on a lead and under control whenever livestock might be nearby.

NSA has conducted an annual farmer survey on the topic for several years with results showing that attacks on livestock leaving animals at risk of miscarrying their young due to stress, injured or even dead, continue to rise.

These findings have been matched by those from the 2024 survey where 78% of rural crime teams reported an increase in dog attacks on sheep over recent years. 76% of the forces reported that they respond to sheep worrying by dog incidents at least once a month, with 33% of them dealing with incidents on a weekly basis. Most police forces contributing to the survey (57%) stated that sheep worrying by dogs was their most frequently reported rural crime.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “The 2024 NSA sheep worrying by dogs survey has provided a useful insight to how rural crime teams are working to support farmers affected by attacks on their flocks.

“We know that cases continue to rise, however only a fraction of those do actually get reported to the police due to farmers believing there may be little this action can do, but NSA urges farmers to report all attacks as we continue to strive to reveal the true alarming level of this problem. Only then can we hope for much needed legislation to be brought about that punishes those responsible for these crimes appropriately and acts as a true deterrent to those who continue to ignore the recommendations to keep dogs on leads near livestock and to know where they are at all times.”

64% of UK police forces were represented in the 2024 survey. Respondents identified that dogs being exercised off of a lead and a lack of responsibility and awareness of the consequences of dog attacks as the two main reasons for police being called to incidents of sheep worrying.

NSA project manager Nicola Noble commented: “Whilst the 2024 NSA survey has confirmed the concerning rise in sheep worrying by dogs cases there are clearly positive steps being made by rural crime teams to engage with dog owners in an effort to raise awareness and reduce these serious, upsetting attacks.

“By working with the police and by using warning signs for dog owners when livestock are grazing in certain fields, were recognised as the best method of deterrence and can hopefully help farmers reduce the number of attacks on their animals.”

Currently, England and Wales are seeing new legislation being brought in to clamp down on livestock worrying. Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill the police will be given greater powers to respond to livestock worrying incidents more effectively. Making it easier for them to collect evidence and, in the most serious cases, seize and detain dogs to reduce the risk of further attacks.

Similar legislation was passed in Scotland in 2021 in a private member’s bill from MSP Emma Harper. The Bill requires incidents to be corroborated by two witnesses and there are yet to be any significant prosecutions as a result of the amended legislation.