Lewes Wildlife Community Officer
Last year I was leading an early evening wildlife walk along the River Ouse near Lewes. On the river bank path we stopped and briefly chatted to a friendly chap (and his equally friendly dog) who were both out enjoying the countryside and wildlife.
Ten minutes later my group stopped on the bridge at Southease to scan the surrounding fields for owls and hares. Through her binoculars one lady noticed something behind us on the riverbank and exclaimed Whats that dog doing?
By the riverbank was the body of a dead sheep, which from its condition, appeared to have been dead for some time. The friendly dog we had met previously was savagely tearing the sheep apart it was going crazy! With the sun setting over Sussex the scene looked like something from the Serengeti. I half expected to see vultures and hyenas standing in wait around the carcass until the dog had finished tearing it apart. I wondered what the owner, who by now was far off along the riverbank and completely oblivious to the incident, would think when his dog bounded up to him with its head covered in blood.
Despite their cute faces and waggy tails there is a wild animal still lurking inside every one of our dogs. When exposed to the temptation of a flock of sheep the animal instincts of dogs can get the better of them with tragic consequences.
Over the past few years there has been an increase in sheep attacks on our reserves. This has been particularly noticeable between Christmas Day and the New Year (possibly because people are walking their dogs in unfamiliar areas or simply because the dogs are full of energy after being stuck indoors over the festive period). To protect our sheep during this period we responded by moving our flocks from some public areas.
But it is spring when sheep in the countryside are at their most vulnerable. Sheep are pregnant or have just given birth. During the lambing season the mere sight of a dog running loose in a field can cause panic, injury, early labour and fatality for ewes. Of course these attacks are not limited to nature reserves. Sheep attacks are a growing problem on farms all across the UK.
Aside from the distress caused to the sheep these attacks cause distress to the farmers, the vets who have to treat the wounded animals and hikers and other dog walkers who witness the attack. In my experience of dog attacks on our reserves it is especially distressing for the dog owners themselves who are shocked to see their dog behave in such a way and can often be unable to stop it.
So we ask dog walkers to be extra vigilant when walking through an area where sheep are present and keep their dogs under close control to ensure that a walk in the countryside is an enjoyable experience for all especially you and your dog.
Find out more about why the Sussex Wildlife Trust uses grazing animals