Spate of sheep attacks prompts NFU warning to dog owners

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Dog owners are being urged to keep their pets under control in the countryside following a series of attacks on sheep in recent days.

Following reports from farmers across the UK, the NFU is concerned that walkers taking dogs unfamiliar with farm animals into the countryside may not be aware that their pets could follow their instincts to hunt and attack sheep and lambs.

Recent attacks have included sheep killed and others injured across the UK, at a time when ewes and their new-born lambs are particularly vulnerable.

During the coronavirus pandemic, more and more dog owners may be tempted to use farmland of isolation walks.

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, said: “These horrific attacks have left a trail of dead and seriously-injured sheep and new-born lambs so we are urging dog walkers to keep their pets on the lead at all time when exercising them in countryside where livestock are reared. Walking dogs on a lead also ensures people can safely keep two metres away from others.

“Livestock worrying causes appalling suffering to sheep and lambs and during the coronavirus crisis the threat of attacks is adding to farmers’ anxiety when they are already under immense pressure. Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress and exhaustion of the chase can cause a sheep to die. Many walkers are also failing to clear up after their dog, which can spread disease to livestock.

“Some farming areas are experiencing increased numbers of walkers with dogs, with farmers having to spend additional time patrolling flocks to try and prevent attacks which is hindering them from getting on with the vital task of producing food for the nation.

“There are real concerns that high numbers of people using farmland footpaths for exercise are putting older farmers in particular at risk. Together with the farmers’ unions, we are urging people to maintain social distancing of two metres apart and not put others, including farmers, their families and other rural dwellers at risk.”

NFU Mutual’s claims figures show that livestock worth £1.2m were attacked by dogs last year.

Advice on preventing dogs attacking livestock is available from NFU Mutual’s website at www.nfumutual.co.uk/news-and-stories/preventing-dog-attacks-on-farm-animals/

The NFU’s advice on walking in the countryside during the coronavirus pandemic includes maintaining social distancing of at least two metres, avoiding footpaths through farmyards or close to farmhouses, sticking to footpaths and always keeping dogs on a lead near livestock.

Owners should always clean up after their dogs and not let dogs loose in land or gardens adjoining fields containing livestock.