Crackdown on livestock worrying in England and Wales

9 June 2021

New measures to crack down on livestock worrying are to be introduced in England and Wales through the Kept Animals Bill introduced to Parliament on Tuesday 8th June.

Livestock worrying is when a dog attacks or chases livestock on agricultural land or is at large in a field with sheep, which can result in significant injury or suffering and in the worst cases, death of the animals involved. This also has devastating consequences for livestock keepers, causing personal distress as well as significant financial costs.

Improved powers will enable the police 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 incidents. The measures include:

  • Increasing the scope of livestock species and locations covered by the law, such as llamas, emus, enclosed deer, and donkeys. New locations will include roads and paths as long as the livestock have not strayed into a road.
  • Increasing powers for the police to seize dogs after particularly serious incidents, if there is a reason to believe that dog might pose an ongoing risk to livestock. Currently, the police can only seize a dog for the purpose of identifying the owner, and it has to be returned to the owner once they have been identified.
  • A new power to take samples from livestock and dogs suspected of an offence, which will help the police investigate these crimes. At present, most cases of livestock worrying don’t end up in prosecution due to a lack of evidence.
  • Modifying powers of entry, meaning that police can enter a premises to identify and/or seize a dog or any items they believe to be evidence of an offence. Making dog control, disqualification and destruction orders available to the courts upon a conviction for the offence.

Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, said:

“Growing up on a farm, and having suffered from a dog attack at home, I know first-hand the devastating effect of livestock worrying and the distress that it causes farmers and animals as well as the financial implications.

We are cracking down on this issue by introducing new laws to tackle this offence and giving police more powers to act on reports of livestock worrying.”

Minister for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said:

“Livestock worrying is a distressing issue and we want to make sure we do all we can to tackle it. We are working with the UK Government on introducing further safeguards through the Kept Animals Bill. I know the measures will be welcomed by many who keep livestock and who live in the countryside.”

Although it is already a specific offence to allow a dog to worry livestock, with a maximum fine of £1,000, these proposed reforms will address current enforcement challenges and modernise the legislation to ensure it remains fit for purpose. Since the implementation of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act in 1953 the number of livestock in England and Wales has doubled and there has also been an increase in dog ownership and visits to the countryside.

National Sheep Association Chief Executive Phil Stocker says:

“The NSA Sheep worrying survey 2021 highlighted the continued increase year on year of these devastating attacks and underlined the significant emotional cost experienced by farmers. Due to the pandemic there are more people with more time to walk dogs than in the past and dog ownership has increased markedly – all of which have added to an increased threat to livestock and livelihoods.”

“The NSA welcomes this new Kept Animals Bill that we hope will strengthen legislation to support local police forces and rural crime teams in resolving and hopefully stopping these incidents. We look forward to continuing to work with Defra, and other interested organisations, to address the issue of dogs attacking sheep and other livestock, to change behaviours and attitudes for the good of all.”

Rob Taylor, North Wales Police Rural Crime Team Manager, said:

“We first identified the devastation of a livestock attack by dogs back in 2013 when our dedicated Rural Crime Team was formed here in North Wales. The impact of such offences are truly awful, so we started the long journey to make a positive change.”

“With our partners we have come a long way and the law change is the first step to preventing these attacks and to stop animals from being unnecessarily killed, including the dogs themselves. This is all about responsible dog ownership and education and enforcement are both vitally important, so this new law will really make the difference.”

Yesterday’s announcement is the second piece of legislation introduced in the last month aimed at driving better animal welfare. It follows the Government’s decision to formally recognise animals as sentient beings in domestic law through the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill which was introduced to Parliament on 13 May. As well as the new Kept Animals Bill, the Government will also announce a series of further reforms related to microchipping, pet theft, farm animal welfare and tackling wildlife crime, as laid out in our Action Plan for Animal Welfare.

The UK has a world-leading record on animal welfare, and over the last decade the Government has introduced a range of measures to ensure we offer animals the care, respect and protection they deserve. This includes banning the use of battery cages for laying hens, introducing compulsory CCTV in slaughterhouses and raising the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years.