Saturday, 27 February 2021
A GAMEKEEPER fears he will have to shoot dogs if owners keep failing to control them on his land.
Chris Goodman, who manages the 1,400-acre Elvendon Priory estate between Goring and Woodcote, says there have been several recent incidents where livestock could have been killed or injured.
He can legally shoot any dog which “worries” his animals, or which causes harm due to high stress levels, but says he is desperate to avoid a situation where there is no alternative.
Thirteen public footpaths and bridleways cross the estate off Elvendon Road but owners often veer off into the private fields and woodland and let dogs off the lead so they can’t prevent them attacking other creatures.
Recently, Mr Goodman found the remains of a muntjac deer whose hind quarters had been savaged, indicating it had been chased and killed.
This was near a public area so he moved the carcass deeper into the woods, out of walkers’ view.
A few days later, while a colleague was shooting deer from a high seat to manage the population, a German shepherd dog came flying out of the trees and tried to get into a pen where a flock of pheasants was being kept. The birds panicked and bunched together in a corner while frantically flapping about before the owner stepped in.
The estate’s five landowners, who are farmers, also keep sheep and ponies which Mr Goodman has seen being chased around their field by loose dogs.
The landowners could lose income if ewes are worried in the lambing season as they may abort their pregnancies as a survival mechanism.
Mr Goodman said: “The law says any landowner, farmer or their agent can shoot a dog simply for worrying livestock — it doesn’t necessarily have to get into their pen.
“I never want to have to shoot a dog but it’s my right and there are people — and, frustratingly, I think they know who they are — who behave like the law doesn’t apply to them.
“They don’t seem to understand how the countryside works. They see their dog having a lovely time running free but they don’t think about the consequences or the fact that it’s a criminal offence.
“I’m pleading with people to understand because if I have to save a sheep or horse from being mauled, I won’t have any choice but to shoot. Put yourself in my shoes — I’ve got six dogs myself and would hate to see them killed but this has the potential to get out of hand. It amazes me that people aren’t more concerned when their dog disappears from view.
“I’ve seen what can happen when they grab a Shetland pony by the throat and when they’ve chased ours, the owner wasn’t even around to help get them under control.
“I would emphasise that the majority of owners are respectful and in the 20 years I’ve worked here, I’ve only had about half a dozen run-ins. Most don’t realise they’ve gone off the path and apologise when we ask them to turn around.
“However, there has been a lot more dog walking since the coronavirus outbreak began and more people are straying into our woods to avoid bumping into others.”
Mr Goodman has repeatedly aired his concerns on social media and has warned members of the Wonderful Woodcote Facebook group that he would “not ask again” if there was a serious incident.
Dozens of members, including a number of dog owners, responded with supportive comments but a minority were critical, saying he and his colleagues shoot other animals for a living.
Mr Goodman said: “Despite what some people think, gamekeepers aren’t going round with a gun under their arm shooting everything in sight. Our job is to carefully maintain the balance between predators and prey, which keeps the land as diverse as possible.
“It has been shown that nature doesn’t just manage itself — managed land is healthier in the long run.
“We’re overrun with muntjac at the moment and there’s loads of roe deer because the two most recent lockdowns have interrupted the shooting season. They can do a huge amount of damage to planting and have to be kept under control.
“We do raise pheasants for sport but it’s not for profit and if it ever does make money, it goes back into the estate’s upkeep. I appreciate that some people are against it but it’s not fair to criticise how I earn a living.”
It is a crime to let a dog become “dangerously out of control”, which includes making someone fear that they or an animal they own will be attacked. Offenders face an unlimited fine or prison sentence of up to six months.
The Henley Standard has reported on numerous dog attacks on livestock, including two in 2019 and last year in which farmer Tracey Betteridge, from Medmenham, lost a total of six ewes while three others were mauled. She lost two lambs to a similar incident in 2015.
She blamed inexperienced professional dog walkers and said the industry should be regulated.
23 January 2021
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