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Sheep Worrying - The Legal Position

You cannot have missed the many headlines in the farming press last year and throughout 2018 about the, at times, controversial topic of sheep worrying and farmers’ rights in the event of such attacks.

It is a topic that can be highly emotive for both farmers and dog owners. Such attacks can have an enormous financial impact on a farmer’s business and can result in a devastating loss for the dog owner if the farmer has to resort to shooting the dog to stop an attack happening.

I wanted to set out the main points as far as the law is concerned and this article will only be looking at the civil law position. For that we need to look at the Animals Act 1971.

Sheep Worrying and The Animals Act 1971


Under the Act it is quite clear that where livestock is injured or killed by a dog the owner/keeper of that dog is strictly liable. This is important because it means there is no obligation to prove fault.

From the landowner’s/occupier’s perspective there is a statutory defence potentially available if they have to resort to shooting the dog in question.They must be able to prove the following:
•That he was acting for the protection of any livestock and was a person entitled to so act
•The dog has not left the vicinity
•The dog is not under the control of any person and it is not practically possible to ascertain to whom it belongs
•The dog is worrying/is about to worry livestock and there are no reasonable means of preventing it

Critically, for the defence to be available, the farmer must report the shooting to the officer in charge of the local police station within 48 hours of the incident. This applies regardless of whether the dog is killed or merely injured.

This may seem obvious but dogs on the land with the landowner’s/occupier’s permission cannot have the defence applied against them.

As a landowner/occupier the best thing you can do is to have plenty of warning signs up, clearly visible to all and keep them up to date. This can alert those who perhaps might not have considered/be aware of the risks. And remember that shooting is an absolute last resort.

Key contact

Judy Lankester, Associate Solicitor

Judy Lankester

Associate Solicitor

Call 01904 610886

Key contact

Amy  Cowdell, Senior Associate Solicitor

Amy Cowdell

Senior Associate Solicitor

Call 01522 888555