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Sheep Worrying

29 April 2014 | Posted in Michael Blencowe , Nature Reserves

Please keep your dogs under close control Please keep your dogs under close control
Michael Blencowe

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 ‘What’s 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

on its nature reserves.

Sheep and other livestock are an important tool in managing our nature reserves Sheep and other livestock are an important tool in managing our nature reserves / Mark Monk-Terry


  • jac woods:

    30 Apr 2014 12:10:02

    Excellent piece on sheep worrying and i agree that owners forget the wolf connection and think their dog is not ever going to hurt livestock. I was in that category until i experienced something similar to what the writer describes.

    Is there a website where one can check the presence of livestock?

    good awareness raising.

  • Peter Smith:

    30 Apr 2014 13:35:01

    Very timely reminder about dogs attacking sheep. We live on the Ashdown Forest, where a neighbour has recently lost four lambs, killed by a dog whose owner lacked the necessary control over the dog. Perhaps owners need to be reminded that in these circumstances the farrmer is entitled in law to shoot the dog. In addition, under recent legislation, the dog owner can now be prosecuted.

  • Barbara Rogers:

    30 Apr 2014 13:37:52

    Keep your dog on a lead! Even if it’s an expanding one you should be able top reel the dog back in if it looks as if it might threaten sheep, or even just alarm them. Your dog could be shot if you don’t (yes, there are plenty of farmers with guns around here).

    And more notices please! “Vulnerable livestock: Dog owners must keep their animals on a lead”

  • 30 Apr 2014 14:11:32

    Many dog owners seem to have little control over their dogs – especially when the instinct kicks in. The number of dogs I’ve seen chasing sheep with the owners desperately shouting for them to come back, being completely ignored – and they claim “it’s never done that before”.

    We have signs on my local patch warning when livestock are on the common. They’re off at the moment but they’ll be back soon with their lambs.

  • Ann van der Westhuizen:

    30 Apr 2014 20:53:12

    But what can you do about pigheaded owners? I was walking on the Downs where sheep were grazing and there was a dog running around the dew pond and the owner got on his bike and called the dog.As he was heading towards the sheep I said he should put the dog on a lead in a polite manner but he scowled and told me angrily that his dog was fine.
    Also could you draw attention to the fact that dog owners seem to think that it is ok to put dog poo in a bag and dump it in the hedge or by the path-are they immune to the problem of plastic in the countryside??!

  • Sarah:

    06 May 2014 19:55:41

    Not just sheep worrying surely? There are about 60 feisty young steers in the field opposite us and I have seen several dog owners walk through with dogs off their leads despite clear signage. These steers gallop across the field at a rate of knots – how stupid are these people?? If they get hurt (and survive!) I’ll bet they try to sue the farmer!

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