Alleviating worries – Second Animal Welfare Bill to tackle livestock worrying
On 8 June 2021, the Government introduced the new Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to Parliament.
The objective of the second Animal Welfare Bill is twofold: to raise standards for animal welfare and to reform the existing legislation relating to the keeping of animals by offering improved enforcement powers to the police.
The Bill is wide in its scope and aims to address several concerns around animal welfare standards in the UK. These include the proposal of a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening; a proposal which would make the UK the first country in Europe to prohibit this practice. The Bill also proposes bans on keeping primates as pets, improvements to the regulation of zoos and the creation of new powers to address illegal puppy smuggling, an issue which has grown increasingly controversial during the Covid-19 pandemic with an increase in dog owners and a simultaneous increase in pet theft during lockdown.
However, perhaps the most significant proposal in the Bill for farmers, relates to the new powers to tackle livestock worrying. As more people remain in the UK and take holidays in rural parts of the UK, increased foot traffic in the countryside has led to an increase in incidents of livestock worrying, leading to louder calls from the farming community for tougher legislation to deal with the issue.
Livestock worrying is a criminal offence, defined in section 1 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. There are three definitions of what currently constitutes livestock worrying under the Act: attacking livestock, chasing livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock, or being at large (i.e. not on a lead or under close control) in a field of sheep.
It goes without saying that such attacks on livestock, which can result in significant injury and suffering or the death of stock animals, is devastating for any keeper of livestock. Where pregnant livestock are worried by a dog, this can result in abortion of their unborn young, which is also considered to constitute injury or suffering for the purposes of the Act. Any farmer who has experienced livestock worrying with their herds will understand the devastating consequences on the animals, and the significant financial costs which can arise from loss of stock including any unborn young.
Tackling the issue
With regards to livestock worrying, the Bill widens the definition of “livestock” species and locations covered by the law. If the Bill is approved, species such as llamas, emus, enclosed deer and donkeys will receive the same protection for livestock worrying as more traditional species such as sheep and cattle.
The Bill increases the seizure powers of police after serious incidents of livestock worrying. Under the current legislation, the police can only seize a dog for the purposes of identifying the owner and must return the dog upon identification. The Bill proposes conferring powers upon the police to seize and detain a dog which is suspected of livestock worrying and poses a risk of worrying livestock again if not detained; it also proposes the modification of police entry powers, so that the police may enter a premises under a warrant to seize a dog suspected of livestock worrying and take samples from the dog.
Perhaps the most significant of the proposed changes to the law on livestock worrying relates to the changes to the orders which a Court can make following a conviction. The Bill proposes to bring livestock worrying in line with existing offences under the Dogs Act 1871 and Dangerous Dogs Act 1989, so that upon conviction, the Court may order the destruction of a dangerous dog, the disqualification of its owner from owning or keeping dogs, or may order the owner to take steps to keep their dog under proper control.
One aspect of the existing legislation which has not been reviewed is the penalty imposed on anyone guilty of an offence. The offence of livestock worrying remains a summary only offence, punishable by a level 3 fine up to £1,000.
The news of proposed improvements to the enforcement powers of the police to tackle this issue should come as great relief to farmers with livestock, who can only hope that these go some way to countering a problem which cost farmers an estimated £1.3million last year (10% up on the previous year).
That said, the Bill is relatively fresh in Parliament, and whilst the Bill is being heard farmers should consider what steps they can take now to help prevent livestock worrying on their land. NFU members can order signs which encourage dog owners to keep their dog on a lead while walking around livestock, by calling NFU CallFirst on 0370 845 8458. In addition, farmers should report any incident of livestock worrying to the police, and where repeated incidents occur, should consider investing in security measures such as trail cameras to gather evidence which can be passed to the police.