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Farmers fear out of control dogs as visitors flock to countryside over Easter

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Look out for livestock

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in pet ownership and 88 per cent of dog owners exercise their dog in the countryside.

Last year the UK cost of farm animals savaged by dogs rose by more than 10 per cent to an estimated £1.3m.

There are concerns that there will be a greater number of walkers over Easter, many of whom will be unfamiliar with the Countryside Code and unaware of how their new dogs will behave around livestock.

The warning comes at critical time for farmers as new born lambs and pregnant ewes are at their most vulnerable.

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.

According to a survey of dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual, 88 per cent of people say they now walk their dog in the countryside. While 64 per cent of dog owners say they let their dog run free in the countryside - half admit their pet doesn’t always come back when called.

Many farm animals are seriously injured or killed each year in dog attacks. Livestock worrying cost the South East an estimated £115,000 last year, according to NFU Mutual statistics.

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.

Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual Rebecca Davidson said: “These attacks cause immense suffering to animals and are devastating for farmers.

“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.

Alarmingly, only 18 per cent of those surveyed said they would call the police if they saw a dog chasing or attacking livestock and only 15 per cent would report it to the farmer.

To make dog walking safe, NFU Mutual is issuing the following advice:

  • 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

*Petbuzz Market Research surveyed 1,237 dog owners on behalf of NFU Mutual from 23 December 2020 and 12 January 2021

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