An influx of walkers unfamiliar with the Countryside Code is expected during the Easter break, prompting farmer concern over a potential rise in dog attacks.
Spring visitors to the countryside are being urged to keep their dogs under control as farmers brace themselves for a wave of attacks on their sheep over Easter.
It comes 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 dogs.
According to a survey of dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual, 88% of people say they now walk their dog in the countryside.
While 64% of 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, with the UK cost estimated at £1.3m in 2020, a rise of over 10% 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 caused immense suffering to animals and were 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," she said.
Walkers are also being urged to report any incidents of livestock worrying they may witness.
The ‘What3Words’ app can be used to pinpoint an exact location, and users can report where they have seen an incident to within a 3m x 3m area.
Only 18% of those surveyed said they would call the police if they saw a dog chasing or attacking livestock and only 15% would report it to the farmer.
Tips for controlling dogs in the countryside
To make dog walking safe, NFU Mutual has issued 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