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Staying legal in England and Wales

Here is a summary of the key points of legislation affecting dogs around sheep in England and Wales, to help you feel confident that you and your pet are staying within the law when in farming areas.

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence. The Act considers sheep worrying to include attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.

Sheep escaped from their keep that are still on agriculatural land are still protected by this act. Sheep escaped that have escaped and are off of agricultural land can no longer be protected by this act. Sheep that have escaped onto amenity land should be reported to the local council. If there is concern sheep can and/or have escaped onto a highway or there is a concern that the escaping sheep may injure themselves or be suffering a welfare concern, the County Council Trading Standards team should be contacted as the principle agency for regulating livestock welfare.

The Countryside and Right of Way Act (CROW Act) sets out public rights of access to open land and the restrictions to these rights. Although CROW allows anyone on to open access land (land you can access without having to use paths, including mountains, moorland, heaths, downs and registered common land) for recreation, the Act states that the public can only go on this land if they keep dogs on a fixed lead of 2 metres or less near livestock. The owner of open access land can close areas containing sheep to dogs for up to six weeks once a year, as a safeguard during lambing. Trained guide and hearing dogs are still allowed in these areas during this closure.

The Countryside Code in England and Wales

The Countryside Code offers advice on walking your dog near livestock, as well as other information on how to enjoy a safe and responsible trip to a rural area in England and Wales. Excerpts from the Countryside Code say: “When you take your dog into the outdoors always ensure it does not disturb wildlife, farm animals, horses or other people by keeping it under effective control … It is always good practice to keep your dog on a lead around farm animals … Keep your dog in sight at all times, be aware of what it’s doing and be confident it will return to you promptly on command … Ensure it does not stray off the path or area where you have a right of access.” The Code also reminds walkers that a farmer ‘may shoot a dog which is attacking or chasing farm animals without being liable to compensate the dog’s owner’. Farmers should only shoot dogs as a last resort when methods to distracts the offending canine have failed. 

Click here for the Countryside Code for England

Click here for the Countryside Code for Wales