Forensic science to help farmers foil sheep attacks



An exciting new forensic research project run by Liverpool John Moores University is working with farmers, police, vets and industry to improve the collection of offending dog DNA from attacked livestock.

This research is led by Dr Nick Dawnay and forms part of the Canine DNA Recovery Project (CDnaRP) aiming to develop, promote and apply best practice methods for the collection and analysis of canine DNA from attacked livestock and wildlife.

Dog attacks on livestock result in the severe injury and death of thousands of farm animals each year.  Hannah Binns, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist, said: “Alarmingly, UK farm animals worth an estimated £2.4 million were severely injured and killed by dog attacks last year. Not only do these attacks cause unnecessary suffering to livestock, but can traumatise farmers and their families as they deal with the aftermath.”

Nicola Noble, Project Manager at the National Sheep Association (NSA) said “NSA surveys as part of its sheep worrying awareness raising campaigns 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.” Hannah Binns (NFU Mutual) adds, “All dogs are capable of chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament. That is why it is so important people keep their pets on leads wherever livestock may be present.”

Developing evidence kits

While livestock attacks are on the increase, obtaining suitable forensic samples from the scene is difficult as attacks often occur in remote locations. According to Dr Dawnay, “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.”

This led Dr Dawnay to develop Early Evidence Kits so that, in the event of a livestock attack, a forensic sample can be collected at the crime scene by police, vets and farmers. These easy-to-use kits will enable canine DNA to be collected in minutes at the scene of the attack, with samples then handed to the police.

Dave Allen, North Wales Police and NPCC Livestock Offence Working Group Secretary said “New legislation for England and Wales is currently making its way through Parliament and gives Police offers the power to take a DNA sample from a suspected dog to compare to canine DNA left at an attack scene. These kits are an exciting development and can be utilised for an issue that causes major concern to our UK rural communities”.

Long-term benefits

The kits are currently for research use only and any future use for evidence collection is subject to validation and acceptance by the UK Criminal Justice System. Mrs Noble (NSA) adds, “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.”

Kits are being distributed in summer 2024 in 10 regions across England and Wales through participating police forces, NFU Mutual, the National Sheep Association, and the National Farmers Union Wales.

Partners in the project are:

National Sheep Association

NFU Mutual

Farmers Union Wales

IVC Evidensia

Synergy Farm Health

North Wales Police

Dyfed Powys Police

Gwent Police

Cheshire Police

Cumbria Police

North Yorkshire Police

Northumbria Police

Kent Police

Dorset Police

Devon and Cornwall Police

 



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