IT'S a growing issue in North East Wales' vast rural areas, and is worsening. The Leader looks at the devastating impact dog attacks on livestock has on the farming industry.

NUMBERS of livestock attacks in North Wales are on course to reach record highs by the end of the year.

There have already been 40 dog attacks on sheep in North Wales this year, which could reach record highs of 160 by the end of 2019 if the rate of attacks remains the same.

Rob Taylor, team manager of North Wales Police rural crime teams, said the number of attacks already in 2019 suggested it could become a record year for incidents.

He said: "The fact we've already had 40 attacks in North Wales in less than four months is showing the problem is only getting worse. If the number of attacks remains at the current rate we'll end the year with 160 attacks in North Wales, which will be an unwanted new record."

He said it also highlighted shortcomings in current livestock attack legislation, currently the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

Mr Taylor said: "We've gone down the road of education, we've produced films and documentaries and posters, and tried to educate the public. However, people aren't listening.

"We've come to the point where the law needs changing, we need stiffer sentences, we need banning orders on people in regards to these offences.

"We need to push on and wave that big stick, unfortunately, and make a big difference."

Mr Taylor said advances in DNA testing were not reflected in law, with police having no powers to take a sample from a dog suspected of worrying livestock.

He said they have no powers of seizing a dog known to have attacked livestock under that legislation, and no clear definitions on which animals were actually protected - animals such as llamas or alpacas for example, which are growing in popularity on farms.

After one particularly 'harrowing' day last year that saw four separate attacks on livestock in North Wales, Mr Taylor said he is 'at the end of my tether with it'.

He added: "It is just absolutely devastating to see the destruction that is caused by irresponsible dog owners time and time again, day after day."

But Mr Taylor has pledged to keep on fighting the issue, and is doing so all the way to Westminster.

Mr Taylor explained a UK police priority working group has been established, with key partners, to tackle the issue, chaired by himself.

He continued: "This working group has presented on several occasions to a select committee of Lords and MPs at Westminster with the key aim of raising awareness and updating the current antiquated 1953 livestock act through parliament. This is ongoing work.

"As a team we robustly deal with offending owners of dogs and we have seen several sadly euthanised under court orders when they have carried out repeat attacks.

"Despite a significant amount of work and publicity the attacks continue and we regularly deal with the horror of one on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.

"This is about responsible dog ownership and until the message gets through or the law is changed, sadly they will continue and the attacks will occur.

"We're being ignored, education simply isn't working, it's time for a law change."

Figures obtained by the Leader showed that nearly 650 animals were killed as a result of livestock worrying (attacks) across Wrexham and Flintshire between September 2013 and August 2017.

North Wales Police also confirmed that in 89 per cent of the cases, the dog owner was not present.

Figures state that last year there were 20 incidents in Flintshire, which resulted in 12 animals being killed and two injured.

A total of 11 incidents were reported in Wrexham in 2018, in which three animals were killed.

Data acquired by the Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) states that livestock worrying could cost the sheep sector about £1.3 million per year.

Farmer Hayden Sigsworth, from Halkyn, lost a sheep following an attack by a dog last year.

He said: "I had to cull one sheep last year after it was attacked by a dog. There weren’t massive injuries, but the dog had ripped its mouth and it wouldn’t have gone through a winter without having to be put down.

"It was just the one dog attack last year, but some years you can get a lot more.

“I don’t think licensing of dogs is a bad idea – something they stopped doing around 40 years ago now. People then have more responsibility in owning a dog, and if they can’t stay responsible, then they have their licence taken away from them.

"But you can't single out dog attacks, every year, we (farmers) lose lambs to the fox, and sheep to the crows and magpies who peck their eyes out which are a big problem."

He added: "A law to keep dogs on short fixed-length leads around livestock all year round would definitely help. The problem is that people walking dogs now have less contact with farmers, whereas in the past everyone knew a farmer.

“That gap has widened, so dog owners don’t understand the issues that can be caused from a dog running through a field of sheep that are heavily pregnant or recently lambed.

“So, I think it’s a good idea, but people need to know why they’re being asked to do that. It’s not farmers being killjoys, there is a reason.

“If we’ve got open fields without stock, we don’t mind people walking their dogs through so long as they clean up after them. It’s just the odd few that make it bad for everyone else.”

The RSPCA is also urging dog owners to ensure their pets are kept on a lead around livestock and wildlife.

RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben said: “Unfortunately livestock worrying incidents are not uncommon and can have grave consequences for animal welfare, and relationships between pet and non-pet owners in our rural areas - and can be stressful for the farmers involved.

“Sadly, it appears that some dog owners do not think it is a problem that their canine companions chase livestock. But sheep worrying can cause serious, lasting injury to sheep and have horrible impacts, like the loss of unborn lambs. The stress alone of being chased by a dog can be enough to kill a sheep.

"It could also result in the loss of their dogs if the farmer exercises his or her legal right to defend their animals. To avoid this, please keep dogs on leads around farm livestock.

“It can be all too easy to become complacent when walking your dogs and yet this is something all dog owners should take very seriously. Those in charge of dogs worrying livestock can also be prosecuted - so, clearly, this is something any owner should consider when walking their dogs.

“In addition, many worrying incidents are caused by unaccompanied dogs that have escaped from their house or garden. To help tackle the problem of livestock worrying, dog owners should also make sure their home and garden is secure and their dog cannot get loose.”

Figures released by NFU Mutual state that one in six owners admit their dog has escaped from home, prompting concerns unsupervised pets are attacking livestock. The figures also show that the peak time for attacks is between January-April, during the lambing period.

Farming unions have also backed the call for a change in the law.

The Farming Union of Wales said it wanted to see tougher penalties for owners - with the current limit being a £1,000 fine.

It has also called for all police in Wales to be forced to record livestock attacks - it is only done on a voluntary basis at the moment.

Dr Hazel Wright, the union's senior policy officer, said: "There is growing frustration and anger amongst our membership that very little can be done to protect the livestock sector from dog attacks.

"Where dog attacks do occur, farmers should be able to rely on the legal system to protect their livelihoods and safeguard their business by acting as a proper deterrent."The figures presented confirm how devastating livestock attacks can be and can leave affected farmers close to breaking point with stress.

An FUW spokesman added: "The FUW has examples where members have lost nearly a fifth of their stock due to dog attacks.

"One affected member told us 'the field had a footpath going through it and many people use it to walk their dogs. Finding my sheep like that was just devastating. I don’t understand why those walking in the countryside just can’t keep their dogs on a lead,' these attacks are so unnecessary."

"However dog attacks are not confined to land on which there is a public right of way crossing the land and the effects are wider than realised as surviving lambs do not grow as expected afterwards, farmers have to cover abortion costs, vet fees and disposal costs.

"Therefore, we need to protect farm businesses from the severe financial and emotional stress, through improved public awareness coupled with central recording of incidences, tighter regulation and better enforcement.

"Finally, the FUW urge those walking their dogs in the countryside to put their dogs on a lead at all times."