Police and charities team up to tackle livestock worrying

Logo: Naturewatch Foundation

By Kate Salmon, Campaign Manager

Film crew filming a police officer in front of his vehicle
OPERATION RECALL filming and preparation (Naturewatch Foundation)

OPERATION RECALL, a new project with the aim of reducing livestock worrying and attacks, was launched recently and has been rapidly gaining interest from police forces nationally.

Livestock worrying rates have been increasing throughout the country in recent years and 2023 has provided no exception to this trend. It’s likely that if you speak to a sheep farmer, they could recount multiple occasions of their animals being bothered, chased or attacked by dogs. Even a simple two-word Google search of ‘livestock attack’ will bring up articles from almost every month of the year detailing (often very brutal) incidents of grazing animals being attacked by dogs off-lead. According to the 2023 National Sheep Association annual survey, a huge 70% of farmers had experienced at least one incident of sheep worrying within the previous 12 months, a trend that had followed from the previous year.

OPERATION RECALL is the brainchild of PC Jim Clark, rural and wildlife crime officer at Cheshire police, who has dealt with multiple cases of animals attacked by dogs throughout his career within the force. Seeing the animal suffering caused by these incidents, along with the damage done to rural communities and the risks also posed to the dogs involved, resulted in Jim pushing for more action to prevent the attacks from happening in the first place.

Three people sitting on a log bench with their dog
OPERATION RECALL partners: Geoff Edmond (RSPCA), Kate Salmon (Naturewatch Foundation) and PC Jim Clark (Cheshire Police)

Working in partnership, Cheshire Police, the RSPCA and Naturewatch Foundation have brought OPERATION RECALL to life, an initiative that will educate the general public and offenders of attacks and worrying incidents. The project will deliver widespread education and awareness of steps that anyone in charge of walking a dog can take to prevent their dogs from worrying animals, as well as more detailed training aimed at offenders to stop repeat attacks from taking place. The educational video delivered to offenders, by police, will be mandatory as part of the conditional caution process, if applicable to the offender. The conditional caution process is an out-of-course disposal procedure whereby police decide on specific conditions the offender must accept to abide by. Previously, education lacked, as an element, of a conditional caution. The OPERATION RECALL video includes real accounts and messages from people within the dairy and sheep farming communities.

Many livestock attacks occur due to a lack of awareness of how quickly an off-lead dog walk can get out of hand and how unexpectedly a dog’s behaviour can change when they are confronted with new smells and the excitement of being around animals they have not seen before. Any breed or type of dog with any level of training can experience an overdrive in their senses in this situation, causing them to become unruly and caught up in the moment, or sadly, in the chase if their excitement stirs grazing animals in the field. The project, therefore, places an emphasis on the dog owners as the responsible party, and not the dog.

A flock of sheep running from a spaniel
Sheep flock and run from dog (Cheshire Police)

We also can’t forget the large numbers of incidents, where dogs have escaped from gardens and properties due to insecure fencing or gates. OPERATION RECALL is about general responsibility for a dog's behaviour and being aware of where the dog is, how secure it is and what it’s up to, is vitally important to keeping them safe, other animals safe and people safe.

The RSPCA’s key advice is that dogs should always be on a lead near livestock, and some additional advice given to dog owners from OPERATION RECALL is to:

1. Remain present with the dog when out on walks, focusing on them and their surroundings to keep them safe.
2. Ensure that the dogs’ walking equipment is fit for purpose, that their harness is well fitted and that they are on a lead that is not damaged.
3. Keep to designated footpaths in areas where there might be farm animals.
4. Have distractions ready in case there could be livestock around.

By taking these steps, dog walkers should be able to avoid most of the situations that lead to their dogs and the animals around them, finding themselves in danger.

Geoff Edmond, the national wildlife coordinator at the RSPCA, emphasised the importance of this partnership project, stating: “Accidents can happen, and even the most well-behaved dogs can become distracted and excited by grazing animals. The resulting stress and anxiety experienced by livestock can lead to pregnancy loss and, in extreme cases, severe attacks that result in injury or even death. This not only affects the animals but also takes an emotional toll on farmers, jeopardising their livelihoods.”

Infographic: 'The consequences for your dog are massively underestimated with livestock worrying.'

Geoff also spoke about the risk posed to dogs by irresponsible dog walking in the countryside: “Livestock worrying is a welfare issue for dogs too, who could become injured during the incident themselves or could even be shot by the farmer. It is lawful for farmers to shoot a dog to protect their livestock - which no one wants to happen. Owners could also be prosecuted by police if their dog is caught worrying livestock. This is why it’s so important for us to partner with Naturewatch and the police to educate the public, support our rural communities, and help prevent these devastating incidents from happening.”

Going forward, it is hoped that the conditional caution video for offenders will be adopted and used by every relevant police force across the country as an important step to ending livestock worrying within the UK. But it also hoped that people can be reached before they become caught up in a livestock worrying incident themselves.

Logo: Operation Recall

If you are someone who walks their dog out in the countryside, we’d like to invite you to learn more about being responsible in the countryside, and to sign the OPERATION RECALL pledge to responsible dog ownership, which you can find here:

And if you are out in the countryside and come across an animal you think has been a victim of a dog attack, or if you see it taking place, please take action. You can call 999 if it is a crime in action or 101 if you did not see it take place.

For more information on OPERATION RECALL, the partnership or how to support communities blighted by rural crime, please visit

More from Naturewatch Foundation

More on:

Posted On: 22/01/2024

Built by Jack Barber in Whitby, North Yorkshire. Visit Herbal Apothecary for herbal practitioner supplies, Sweet Cecily's for natural skincare, BeeVital for propolis health supplements and Future Health Store for whole foods, health supplements, natural & ethical gifts.