The Manx National Farmers Union (MNFU) has relayed concerns regarding ‘sheep worrying’ in the island.

Sheep worrying refers to dogs chasing a flock of sheep and biting or injuring the sheep in some way, with a number of these instances being reported in the Isle of Man.

A MNFU survey in 2023 revealed that 82% of farmer respondents had at least one sheep worrying incident during 2022, while also reporting that at least 26 sheep had been killed by dogs and 74 injured directly because of loose dogs during the same year.

The MNFU has called for dog owners and walkers to take more control of dogs when out in the countryside.

A spokesperson from the MNFU said: ‘Members of the public can support the protection of livestock and wildlife further by alerting police and the farmer of any incident they witness.

‘They can provide vital evidence by taking photos or video footage of any sheep worrying, or loose dogs near livestock.’

The MNFU recently released footage supplied by a local farmer on its social media page, ‘Manx Farming and Food Matters’, which showed a loose dog just after it had chased a sheep off a cliff on Peel Hill.

Union member feedback indicated that on most occasions, dog owners are electing to let the dog off their lead because they ‘do not believe that their dog is capable of attacking or worrying sheep.’

The spokesperson continued: ‘The MNFU advises contacting the police first, and the farmer, then trying to record as much evidence as possible, though it is recommended not to attempt to intervene due to the risks of personal injury.

‘It is a very distressing thing to witness, but gathering evidence is vital.

‘The MNFU is working with the police to provide education and advice on controlling dogs when out in the countryside with the safest method always being to keep dogs on leads.

‘For the MNFU, along with the need to protect livelihoods, it is a matter of animal welfare.’

This isn’t the first time that the MNFU has spoken out on concerns relating to sheep worrying on the island.

In the Spring of 2021, the MNFU launched a campaign which sought to highlight the impact of livestock worrying, ensuring that dog owners who live in or walked their dogs in the countryside acted and kept their dogs under close control.

As part of the campaign, MNFU representatives pleaded with dog walkers to keep their pets on a lead when walking in the countryside near livestock, warning that sheep worrying could have devastating consequences for farmers and their livestock.

The issue of sheep worrying was highlighted by Media Isle of Man columnist and general manager of the ManxSPCA Juana Warburton last year who said that livestock worrying can lead to a range of consequences, including dead or mortally-wounded sheep and lambs, ewes that aborted their lambs due to shock and lambs being abandoned by, or separated from, their mothers due to stress.

Writing in her weekly column in July 2023, she said: ‘The simple presence of a dog nearby can cause this stress and the abandoned lambs can die of starvation or hypothermia if their mothers fail to find them.

‘On the Isle of Man in the last year alone [2022-2023] dogs have killed 26 sheep and injured another 74 (and there may be many more cases that have not been officially reported to the police).

‘It is every dog’s instinct to chase, even if they are normally obedient with good recall skills, and enjoy being around other animals.’ she said.

‘Please observe the Countryside Code when you are out walking your dog, and keep your dog on a lead when you are near sheep; and remember that a farmer may legally shoot a dog that is attacking or chasing livestock under certain circumstances.’