Dog owners are being urged to consider the risk of attacks on lambs when walking in the countryside.New figures have revealed an 18% rise in the cost of dog attacks on sheep across the UK in 2013 with more than 200 separate incidents recorded; an increase of 6% on the previous year. For many dogs, this may be the first time they have encountered livestock, particularly new born lambs who are extremely vulnerable. In the event of feeling threatened, dogs may lash out and at such a delicate stage of life, it is unlikely the lamb will survive such a traumatic ordeal.Alison Cox, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Livestock worrying is costing farming an estimated £1 million each year in claims for livestock which have been killed or chased by dogs.* Unfortunately, the true cost is probably much higher as many farmers may not report dog attacks on their livestock.“Coming into a field to find livestock killed or seriously injured by dogs is a farmers’ worst nightmare. As well as causing immense suffering, dog attacks are costing agriculture a significant sum, adding to the economic pressures caused by the long wet winter and unseasonably wet start to 2014.”A report from the National Sheep Association (NSA) revealed that 57% of sheep worrying incidents occurred in private, enclosed fields with no permitted access for dog walkers.Alison continued: “It is imperative that farmers understand the importance of reporting every dog attack they come across to help reduce the number of livestock worrying incidents. Of the cases reported to the NSA, 77% were not the first incident experienced on the farm.A story published in Farmers Weekly high lights the sheer danger that sheep in particular might face when spooked by dogs, after one flock was driven over a cliff after being chased. Dog owners have a responsibility under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act to keep their dogs on a lead in the vicinity of livestock; however, it is always good practice (and a legal requirement on ‘open access land’) to keep your dog on a lead around farm animals and horses, for the safety of your and your dog, and for the welfare of the other animals.NFU Mutual, is working with dog owners to prevent attacks on lambs by encouraging them to be extra vigilant whilst out and about this spring. Owners need to be aware that if their dogs chase lambs, it could result in death or serious injury and can have legal implications for the owner. NSA has created a survey asking farmers about sheep worrying on their farm in a bid to increase the information the industry has about the issue. The results of the survey will be used to highlight to the general public the need to keep proper control of dogs around livestock.Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “Sheep worrying by dogs is an issue NSA has been vocal about for some time. We continue to receive reports of attacks on sheep by dogs but we need evidence and information from around the UK to gain attention for the issue and to get dog walkers to take it seriously. That is why we are running the survey and urge all sheep farmers to participate.
“We do not want to discourage people from enjoying our beautiful countryside but feel that if everyone is aware of their responsibilities as well as their rights, rural areas can be used by farmers and the public harmoniously. NSA will continue to do what we can to encourage the non-farming community to take responsibility and control dogs around livestock.”