I'm just waiting for next attack on my sheep after council's U-turn
A farmer fears he is being driven closer to shooting unruly dogs after a Westcountry council abandoned plans to force dog owners to keep their pets on leads on Northam Burrows.
Peter Withecombe, 57, has had to deal with the cost and worry of dozens of his sheep being savaged on the burrows in recent years, this year alone he has lost more than 20.
The farmer, who is the fourth generation in his family to exercise their grazing rights on the burrows, was relying on Torridge District Council, owner of the burrows, to give his animals extra protection.
But at a full council meeting on Monday it was decided to scrap plans to enforce stronger restrictions for part of the year, and have the same less-restrictive order covering the burrows all year round.
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Councillor Chris Leather proposed a dogs on lead direction order should be enforced on the burrows all year round. A direction order means officers, including the park ranger, can approach dog owners and request they place their dog on a lead in circumstances where problems appear likely to occur.
Such requests would be backed up by fixed penalty notices for any failure to comply, but it is less restrictive than a dogs on leads order which means a dog has to be on a lead on the burrows at all times.
At the meeting, council leader Barry Parsons said: "I do not want to punish the very many for the sins of the very few."
Other councillors aired concerns about restricting dogs so much that dog owners would be put off coming to the area.
Mr Leather's proposal, which was approved, meant councillors scrapped what had been recommended a month before by the council's community and resources committee. In October the committee proposed a dogs on lead order be enforced from March to August , meaning all dogs must be on short lead, but between August and March a dogs on leads direction order should be enforced.
Mr Withecombe is disappointed with the council's decision to abandon this proposal, which would have given his sheep greater protection for half the year.
He said: "It is ridiculous, I am just waiting for the next attack on my sheep.
"What I really want them to do is enforce dogs being on leads all year round. My sheep are there 24 hours a day and they don't have any protection.
"The ewes are already pregnant and lambing will start in the middle of January lasting until March. I can't afford to lose lambs. I don't want to graze them anywhere else, why should I? I want to be able to exercise my rights as grazier.
"Earlier this month there was an another attack on three of my sheep, which killed one of them. That attack alone has cost me between £200-300.
"The council is narrowing my options, I have the right to shoot any dog attacking my sheep but I don't want to have to do that, it will just make the whole situation worse."
Mr Withecombe confirmed he has already had to shot a dog; an Alsatian in 2005 after it killed 13 of his sheep.
The council will be holding a consultation on the burrows aspect of the dog orders in coming weeks. It is hoped that all the revised orders, including those for the burrows, will come into effect on March 1.