Sheep attack concerns amid predicted influx of countryside visitors

Spring visitors to the countryside are being urged to keep their dogs under control as rural insurers warn of a potential hike in sheep worrying over Easter.

NFU Mutual has expressed concerns that the Easter break could see an influx of walkers unfamiliar with the Countryside Code and unaware of how new dogs will behave around livestock.

The pandemic has seen a surge in pet ownership and NFU Mutual research shows 88 per cent of dog owners exercise their dog in the countryside. Even more worryingly, 64 per cent of dog owners say they let their dog off the lead in the countryside – yet half admit their pet doesn’t always come back when called.

The warning comes at a critical time for farmers as the spring lambing period is now well underway, meaning ewes and new born lambs are often grazing close to footpaths, which can put them at risk of dog attacks.

Many farm animals are seriously injured or killed each year in dog attacks, with the UK cost estimated at £1.3m in 2020, a rise of over 10 per cent from the previous year.

Even if dogs don’t make contact, the distress of the chase can also cause sheep to die, miscarry and separate lambs from their mothers.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Dog attacks are easily preventable if owners keep their pets under control and on a lead when livestock may be nearby. Doing so keeps sheep and their lambs safe from harm and stops a country walk turning into carnage.”

Walkers are also being urged to report any incidents of livestock worrying they may witness. The ‘What3Words’ app can be used to pinpoint your exact location, so you can report where you have seen an incident to within a 3m x 3m area. Attacks can leave livestock with painful injuries, so prompt and accurate information could save animals hours of suffering.

To make dog walking safe, NFU Mutual has issued a series of top tips to the public:

  • Always keep dogs on the lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle
  • Be aware that even small lap dogs can chase, injure and kill farm animals
  • Take special care to keep close control of dogs unused to farm animals
  • Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to the police or local farmers
  • Don’t let dogs loose and unsupervised in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby

Advice on preventing dogs attacking livestock is available from NFU Mutual’s website

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