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Updated: Jun 19, 2023

grazing sheep on river bank
Grazing sheep

In my third post looking at problems farmers have with dogs and people I look at livestock worrying. This is intended to be a view of the problem and the legal solutions and should not be construed as legal advice, but merely a pointer of where to look.

Worrying of livestock is defined as: “ Attacking or chasing livestock in a way likely to cause injury, suffering, abortion, loss or diminution of their produce.” Under the dogs protection of Livestock Act 1953. Livestock is defined as: “Cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses, asses, mules, domestic fowls, turkeys, geese and ducks.” This definition is possibly a bit dated as we see newer species such as alpaca on farms and has its origins in English common law.

Increasingly the livestock farmer is facing a public that feels entitled to roam amongst their livestock with no responsibility allowing their dogs to roam free with blatant disregard to the damage they are capable of. In many cases it is much worse, the public do not care and view the farmer and his livestock as an encroachment upon their right to roam and do what the hell they like. Even on empty pasture they are blissfully unaware of the disease and losses that their dog shit can cause, let alone the effect on wildlife such as ground nesting birds.

The 1953 Dogs (Protection of Livestock Act) holds liable both the owner of the dog and the person in charge of the dog at the time of the incident. The owner, however, does have a defence, if they can demonstrate the person in charge of the dog at the time was a fit and proper person. This act does have a significant limitation in that it can only be applied to agricultural land. This can be problematic if sheep or other livestock are being used to control grass on say an ancient monument or church yard. However, not known by many police that I have discussed this with over the years, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 extended the definition of worrying to include any dog at large (i.e. not under close control) in an enclosure where there are sheep. The dog merely has to be loose in the enclosure and not necessarily chasing sheep. The Act does not clearly define close control of the dog, but it would be reasonable for a court to be expected to interpret this as no more than two metres.

The 1953 Act gives no power to a farmer to shoot a dog worrying sheep. The defence for killing a dog worrying livestock comes under section 9 of the Animals Act 1971 and I recommend reading this act to understand who can use this defence. The dog can only be killed or injured to protect livestock, that is the dog is worrying or about to worry livestock and there are no other reasonable means of ending or preventing the worrying or the dog has been worrying livestock , has not left the vicinity, and is not under the control of any person. The Criminal Damage Act 1971 may give a lawful excuse to kill a dog, but I recommend reading and understanding section 5 of this Act before relying upon it.

There is one other piece of legislation that the beleaguered farmer should be aware of that is the Control of Dogs Order 1930. This gives local authorities the power to make regulations for the control of dogs between sunrise and sunset to prevent the worrying of livestock. I have seen farmers approach local authorities to receive such protection, especially on public rights of way through grazing areas. However, frequently they have received no support as local councillors are too often unsympathetic, uncaring or simply do not wish to be seen to invoke any potentially unpopular measure that will invade the entitlement of the public to allow Fido to run wherever he wishes

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