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Livestock worrying law hit by Stormont logjam

Tougher action is needed to deal with livestock worrying, the Ulster Farmers' Union has said
Tougher action is needed to deal with livestock worrying, the Ulster Farmers' Union has said
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

Tougher action is needed to deal with livestock worrying, the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has said.

It comes as new figures reveal attacks by dogs cost the local industry nearly £40,000 last year.

The number of incidents is at a record high, although experts believe the problem is under-reported.

UFU deputy president Victor Chestnutt called for legislation around livestock worrying to be strengthened.

"It is a harrowing sight to see ewes and lambs that have been seriously injured or killed by dogs and no farmer should have to go through this," he said.

"In Northern Ireland there is little legislation to protect farmers and their livestock.

"Back in October we called on local politicians to back livestock worrying proposals recommended by the National Police Chiefs' Council.

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"However, in the absence of an Executive this has made it more challenging to progress."

A report published today by insurer NFU Mutual estimates that livestock worrying cost the agricultural industry here £37,000 in 2018.

Across the UK the bill was estimated at £1.2m. In Wales it surged by 113% year on year.

Although the UK-wide cost of claims fell by 17% in 2018, attacks remain at historically high levels.

The majority of dog owners say they would support measures to crack down on livestock worrying with 75% supporting heavy fines.

Some 66% back a ban on dogs in livestock fields during lambing season; 57% support laws enabling DNA testing of dogs suspected of attacking livestock, while 42% want owners whose pets worried livestock to be banned from keeping dogs.

Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: "While we've seen a very welcome fall in the costs of dog attacks on farm animals, the level of attacks is still very high, and we are very concerned by the huge surge in claims we have seen in Wales.

"The national fall may be in part due to higher public awareness of the damage that livestock worrying can cause following the efforts of the police, NFU Mutual, the National Farmers' Union and other rural organisations.

"We are still seeing thousands of sheep being killed and horribly mutilated by dogs and will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue, and helping police to bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.

"The vast majority of dog owners act responsibly when exercising their pets in the countryside. But while more people may be putting their dog on the lead when farm animals are nearby we think a significant proportion of attacks are caused by owners who let them roam from homes adjoining countryside and either don't know or don't care that they are attacking farm animals."

Mr Price said livestock worrying is particularly devastating for small farmers, because it has a huge impact on their businesses.

He added: "While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is still a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome."

The UFU has previously raised livestock worrying concerns with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, and says firmer action needs to be taken here similar to elsewhere in the UK.

Mr Chestnutt added: "Farmers must treat livestock worrying as they would an incident of rural crime. Report it to the PSNI and your local dog warden for investigation."

A series of high-profile livestock attacks have been reported in recent months.

In November two large dogs went on a killing rampage near Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, resulting in thousands of pounds in dead animals.

And in December Keady farmer Alan Faloon had 12 sheep killed by three vicious dogs. Nine of the animals were pregnant.

Belfast Telegraph