Livestock worrying claims fell in 2018 but attacks remain at a historic record high, new figures from NFU Mutual shows.
Rural insurer NFU Mutual estimates that the total cost of livestock worrying to the agricultural industry exceeded £1.2m in 2018.
Although the cost of claims fell by 17% cent in 2018, attacks remain at historically high levels.
The cost of claims in 2018 fell in every part of the UK except Wales where attacks increased by an alarming 113%.
New research conducted by the insurer has revealed that over 87 per cent of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with over 60% letting them roam off the lead.
Compared to 2017 when NFU Mutual conducted the survey of dog owners for the first time, more people are now putting their dogs on leads if they see a sign warning that livestock is in a field.
However, the number of dog owners who admitted their pet had chased livestock in the past was 6%. Most dog owners (61%) say they would try to stop a dog chasing a sheep in the countryside.
The majority of dog owners say they would support measures to crack down on livestock worrying with 75% supporting heavy fines, 66% supporting a ban on dogs in livestock fields during lambing season; and 57% supporting laws enabling DNA testing of dogs suspected of attacking livestock and 42% supporting owners whose pets worried livestock being banned from keeping dogs.
Disappointingly, more people are allowing their pets to go out in the garden unaccompanied when they're not at home (52% - 2019 v 43% - 2018) despite 1 in 6 owners admitting their dog has managed to escape.
With many families expected to visit the countryside during half-term and the Easter holidays, the insurer has launched a campaign urging the public to keep their pets on a lead at all times in the countryside.
The campaign also urges people to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.
It calls for dog owners living in the countryside to make sure their pets cannot escape from their gardens following increasing numbers of reports of attacks by dogs from homes near livestock fields.
Tim Price, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “We are still seeing thousands of sheep being killed and horribly mutilated by dogs and will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue, and helping police to bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.
“The vast majority of dog owners act responsibly when exercising their pets in the countryside. But while more people may be putting their dog on the lead when farm animals are nearby we think a significant proportion of attacks are caused by owners who let them roam from homes adjoining countryside and either don’t know or don’t care that they are attacking farm animals.”
Mr Price added: “For small farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating because it has a huge impact on their businesses. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is still a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.”
Tips for farmers
• Check stock regularly in case any have been attacked
• When possible keep sheep in fields away from footpaths
• Put up signs warning dog owners to keep their pets under control on your land
• Maintain fences, walls and hedges to make it more difficult for dogs to get into grazing fields
• Report any attacks to the police immediately
• Ask neighbours to alert if they see attacks or loose dogs near livestock