Sheep-attacking dogs to be tracked down with new DNA kits

Police have until now struggled to track down dogs which have attacked livestock
Police have until now struggled to track down dogs which have attacked livestock - Alan Morris / Alamy Stock Photo

Dogs which attack sheep and other livestock will be identified by new canine DNA tests so their owners can be traced and prosecuted.

Ten police forces are to trial the new test kits which will be issued to farmers, vets and police so they can collect and preserve the DNA within minutes at the scene of an attack.

Police have until now struggled to get to often-remote locations, by which time the DNA from a marauding dog is likely to have degraded, making it more difficult for forensic scientists to be able to match it with the guilty animal.

About £2.4 million worth of farm animals were severely injured and killed by dog attacks last year, amounting to thousands of livestock.

Quicker DNA collection

The test kits have been developed by Dr Nick Dawnay, a forensic science researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, as part of the Canine DNA Recovery Project.

He said: “Our rural crime police can’t always attend scenes in a timely manner so quite often no forensic sample is collected from the injured or deceased livestock.

“The timing of sample collection is important as the DNA of an offending dog will not last long on an animal exposed to the elements or on a dead carcass that has been disturbed or moved.”

He said the easy-to-use kits would enable canine DNA to be collected in minutes at the scene of the attack, with samples then handed to the police.

Increasing attacks

Nicola Noble, project manager at the National Sheep Association (NSA) said: “NSA surveys have highlighted that sheep attacks by dogs are increasing over the years and more disturbingly becoming the norm for sheep farmers. This needs to change urgently.

“Kits like this should empower farmers, allowing them to proactively drive a positive resolution after the devastation of a sheep attack by dogs.

“Although this project is still very much in the research phase, the long-term future benefits for sheep farmers are clear to see.”

Fines for owners

Owners of dogs that worry livestock by attacking or killing them, or chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering or financial loss to their owner, can be fined up to £1,000.

The two-year trial is designed to perfect the technology and targeted regions with the highest rates of livestock attacks.

Hannah Binns, rural affairs specialist at insurer NFU, said: “Not only do these attacks cause unnecessary suffering to livestock, but can traumatise farmers and their families as they deal with the aftermath.”

In one of the worst attacks earlier this year, more than 45 ewes and lambs were killed in one night at a farm near Lamerton in West Devon.

Farmer Christopher Dawe said he found dead and injured lambs and ewes spread across four fields. “It was heart-breaking,” he said.