Police are on the hunt for irresponsible dog owners after more than 100 sheep were worried to death in Britain’s worst animal attack in living memory.
A total of 116 sheep, worth £17,000 died after they were spooked by at least one dog and flocked towards the edge of a field – where scores were killed.
Some of the sheep were crushed to death in the flock, others may have died from the shock of being chased, which police are blaming on a dog.
The horrific discovery was made by farmer Gordon Wyeth and his father Gerald at the West Dean Estate, West Sussex early on Monday afternoon.
Gordon said: “It was absolutely heart breaking. I’ve never seen anything like that in my 35 years running this business.
“They were chased into this nature this natural funnel and were crushed about four sheep high, spilling into the woods and breaking the fence.
“We managed to pull out two that were alive but one was so badly injured we had to euthanise it.
“They just had nowhere to go – it was like Hillsborough.
“We have over 23,000 sheep – we love sheep.”
The Wyeth family have been farming in the area for over 25 years and have more than 23,000 sheep across Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex.
There were around 600 sheep in the field on the east of the vast 23,000 acre West Dean Estate when the attack happened.
Many of the sheep were in lamb at the time and could have been carrying or or two lambs when they were killed – although they have not been added to the death toll.
Sergeant Tom Carter from Sussex Police said: “I have never seen or heard of sheep-worrying on this scale before and this was a terrible sight.
“While there are no signs of any of the animals being savaged, we are all but 100 per cent certain that their deaths were brought about by dogs.
“The flock was last checked around lunchtime on Sunday, so the incident could have occurred at any time over the next 24 hours. However, if as we suspect it was a dog attack, it may well have happened in daylight and we want to hear from anyone with information about it.
“This is not just about the Mr Wyeth’s livelihood – and it will cost him at least another £2000 to dispose of the carcasses – but also his emotional attachment to the animals that he has raised and nurtured.
“We have seen a rise in sheep-worrying incidents and as spring approaches more dog owners will be heading for the countryside to exercise their pets.
“We urge people to keep their dogs on a lead while they are walking in rural areas and around livestock.
“So often in these incidents the owners are horrified by what their dogs have done, but they have to accept that even the most docile of pets can quickly turn into a killer given the opportunity.”
“A farmer can legally shoot a dog that is chasing livestock and seek compensation from the person responsible for the animal, so please don’t take the risk.”
James Osman, the National Farmers’ Union adviser for Sussex, said: “This is the worst incident of its kind in living memory and talking to colleagues around the country, the number of deaths is double what we have come across in the past.
“We are in full support of the police’s efforts to discover whose dog or dogs were responsible and urge anyone with information to get in touch with them.”