Sheep worrying: Under-reporting only allows it to be brushed under the carpet

Police and sheep industry leaders have raised concerns that many UK sheep worrying incidents are not being reported, masking the true extent of the problem.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) raised the issue at the National Police Chief Council (NPCC) Rural Crime Summit earlier this week.

The summit saw the NPCC launch its new rural affairs strategy and provided an opportunity for the NSA to engage with police officers from across the UK.

It forms part of ongoing NSA work to ensure more police forces treat sheep worrying as the serious rural crime that it is – hopefully bringing more prosecutions in the future to act as a deterrent.

NSA communications officer Eleanor Phipps says: “The event was an excellent opportunity for NSA to speak directly to the police constables, sergeants and inspectors who are on the frontline of tackling rural crime.

“Most of these officers are specifically dedicated to rural affairs in their respective police forces and are keen to work with NSA to find ways to tackle this problem.

A large concern for them was that often sheep worrying cases get passed to general officers, as there are more of these than there are rural crime officers.

“They stressed to us the importance of our members asking for a rural crime officer when reporting dog worrying incidents to the police.

“These officers are specifically trained in this area so are best placed to deal with and prosecute on rural crimes.”

Report every offence

As well as work by the Livestock Offences Group on sheep worrying by dogs, the new rural affairs strategy sets out a three-year plan for tackling rural crimes such as farm machinery, plant and vehicle theft, fuel theft, equine crime, fly tipping and poaching.

NSA is working with SheepWatch UK as well as the Livestock Offences Group to support the NPCC’s proposed amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act that will give police the power to tackle sheep worrying offences more effectively.

However, the association warns these changes will only happen if the rural community ensures its reports every offence to the police – no matter how small.

Phipps added: “Many of the officers we spoke to said they were concerned a large number of crimes are not reported – some because of distrust of the police, and some because people did not want to bother them over a small offence.

“With sheep worrying by dogs, we will only see legislative changes made if the official statistics more accurately portray the magnitude of the problem.

Under-reporting allows it to be brushed under the carpet as not serious enough to warrant action.

“Many other rural crimes relate to bigger organised crime groups and all reports; however minor the incident, help to build a bigger picture.

“The police want to get better at addressing rural crime but can only do so if we work with them and report everything.”