Police are investigating after sheep were killed in an apparent dog attack on a flock near Priory Country Park last month.
This report contains an image some may find distressing.
Four sheep have already died after the attack. Two ewes and a ram drowned in the river surrounding their field while trying to escape the two dogs rampaging through the flock on 22 November, while another died the following day, possibly from shock.
Three others have been taken into care to recover after being rescued from the river by Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue. Another is being treated for injuries consistent with a dog bite.
The team that manages the flock say the long-term effects of the attack are still unknown and fears more sheep could still die.
The flock, which had 88 sheep, grazes on a field near Priory Country Park surrounded by a river almost 90% of the way around.
There are no footpaths or access for the public and it’s thought the dogs swam across the river to get to the sheep after witnesses say they saw them swim back across the river after the attack.
Statements given to police officers investigating say there may have been two dogs involved in the attack. One is described as a black labrador, the other a tan-coloured dog of an unknown breed.
Witnesses say they heard an owner calling one of the dogs “Toby” as they called them back.
The flock owner told the Bedford Independent, that the team who look after the sheep are devastated. “These poor sheep were so stressed and ran into the river in sheer panic.
“It is ‘tupping time’ and the rams are out with the sheep, the long-term effect of this attack on lambs being born is unknown, but the stress of the whole event is likely to cause them to abort their lambs.
“But for us, the welfare of these animals is the main thing and that was severely compromised as a result of two out-of-control dogs.”
Tupping time is when ewes and rams are kept together for the breeding of lambs to be born the following spring.
Bedfordshire Police are now investigating the attack and looking for the owner of the dogs said to have been involved.
Several witnesses who were in the area at the time have given statements, but the flock owner says this attack should never have happened in the first place.
“I know Bedfordshire doesn’t have a huge amount of livestock but dog owners need to be responsible for their dogs. The fact these dogs swam the river to attack the sheep suggests they were out of the owner’s control.
“The scene they left behind was not nice, leaving some very upset and frustrated owners and friends and someone’s livelihood affected, but more importantly the poor animals’ welfare.
“Why should they have died at the cost of two dogs? I’m not sure many people know the law, but if caught those dogs could have well been shot.
“People need to know that it is a criminal offence for dogs to worry livestock and a dog can be shot if it’s believed to be an immediate danger to livestock and there is no other reasonable option.
“Please keep your dogs on a lead around livestock, or all the time if they do not have good recall or have the potential to cause danger to other dogs, people or animals.”
“Becoming the norm”
A 2023 survey by the National Sheep Association found that 70% of farmers responding to their questions had at least one sheep-worrying incident in the previous 12 months. Of these, 95% of them had between 1-10 occurrences in the year.
In almost 70% of cases, it was a single dog injuring or killing multiple sheep and despite farmers taking steps to prevent sheep worrying, through signs, moving sheep and use of social media, there was no impact on bringing cases down.
70% of respondents to the survey reported either verbal abuse, intimidation, being ignored or negative attitude from a dog owner when approached and asked to put their dog on a lead.
82% agreed additional powers are necessary to act as a deterrent to irresponsible dog ownership with many feeling that dog attacks on sheep were ‘becoming the norm’ and ‘expected’.
The Bedford Independent has contacted Bedfordshire Police for comment but they did not respond by the time of publication.
If you believe you have any information relating to the attack, you can report this at Bedfordshire Police’s website quoting crime reference number 40/63413/23.