Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Reports of fatal dog attacks on sheep have risen 75% between 2018 and 2020 according to information provided by Devon and Cornwall police, whereas non-fatal attacks have increased 38% in the same period.
The data revealed that there were 4 reports of sheep dying as a result of attacks from dogs in 2018, in comparison to 7 in 2020. In 2018. 13 sheep were attacked by dogs without suffering a fatality, compared to 18 non-fatal attacks on sheep by dogs in 2020.
Whilst the numbers are arguably low in comparison to the many thousands of livestock in the area, data published earlier this year by the National Farmers Union indicated that only 33% of respondents from across the UK would report an attack taking place to police or a local farmer.
North Devon relies heavily on its agricultural economy, and alongside sheep, popular livestock includes the famous North Devon red cattle, alpacas, and horses. Whilst the rise in fatal attacks on sheep is concerning, so too are the rise in non-fatal attacks and “sheep worrying”, which can have long lasting effects on agricultural livestock.
“Dog attacks are not all fatal but the stress which is caused can have a long-term detrimental effect to the animal,” says Stone Farms Manager and sheep owner, Rob Stoner. “On our farm we will challenge any walker with dogs off leads. The majority will change their ways, but there are still a minority who will not. Responsible dog walking in the countryside is not all about livestock worrying.”
The rise in attacks coincides with a nationwide increase in pet ownership during the pandemic, reflected in the PDSA’s annual PAW Reports indicating a 13% increase of dogs in the UK between 2018 and 2020, rising from 8.9 million dogs to 10.1 million in 2020.
Local dog walker, Adam Jones, visits Westward Ho!’s popular sandy beach twice daily for his Bideford dog walking business.
“I've seen one incident involving a dog since I've been out on the burrows,” Jones says, “These incidents are very well publicised. Generally, the dogs are well behaved.”
Responding to the recent stats on fatal sheep attacks, Jones says, “A lot of dog owners are quite naive. We need to teach people about the bylaws and showing more consideration rather than neglect.”
The public Facebook group ‘North Devon News’ and its community of 57.8K members has played a significant role in broadcasting a number of high-profile attacks on livestock in the area. A post from April 2021 in the Westward Ho! burrows captioned ‘keep your dogs on a lead’ shows a video and three stills of a black and white German Shepherd attacking a sheep.
Many of the group members called for the dog and its owners to be shot, with Facebook user Gary Lynham saying, “I would have followed them back to the car and beat the s**t out of them.”
Whilst the debate around responsible dog ownership in the area continues, it’s clear that this is a highly divisive topic for many.
Michael Day, the Burrows Ranger for Westward Ho! refused to comment.