Fears over sheep worrying as lambing season gathers pace

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Sheep attack - still from RSPCA video
Sheep attack - still from RSPCA video

New warnings have been issued over sheep worrying as lambing gathers pace on Cumbrian farms.

Officials said attacks by marauding dogs on livestock are reaching record levels - and owners are being urged to keep their pets on a lead.

Alarming figures released by rural insurer NFU Mutual reveal more than 1,000 reports of sheep and cattle worrying on UK farms last year, at an estimated cost of £1.4m.

The call for dog owners to keep their pets under control comes after police said they were investigating after six sheep died following a dog attack last week in Cumbria.

The sheep were savaged during the incident in south Cumbria, near Barrow-In-Furness, and have all since died.

Police reminded owners that it is an offence to allow a dog to worry livestock.

Landowners are also permitted to shoot dogs that are endangering their livestock.

Between January and April, when pregnant ewes and lambs are often grazing on low-lying pasture in areas more accessible to walkers, the cost of claims more than double.

The average cost of a claim rises by nearly £500 to just over £1,300.

Cumbrian MP, Tim Farron, is joining the call by the leading rural insurer to dog owners to keep pets under control to protect livestock.

Mr Farron said: "Our area has some of the country’s most beautiful countryside, and as a dog owner I love getting out and walking in our area.

"However, it is vital for dog owners to remember that farmers’ livelihoods depend on the wellbeing of their livestock.

"I would urge all dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead and under control when in an area with livestock, particularly as we approach the lambing season."

Cumbria Police said they have provided posters for farmers to display to remind dog owners of their responsibilities, and warned they would be taking a proactive approach and positive action against those that allow the offence to occur.

With many families expected to visit the countryside during half-term and the Easter holidays, the insurer is asking dog owners always to keep their pets on a lead.

Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: "For small farmers, in particular, livestock worrying is devastating because it has a huge impact on their productivity.

"While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.

"We are seeing higher individual costs of claims resulting from worrying, which may be due to an increase in numbers of some pedigree and rare breed sheep.”

Five tips to reduce risk of dog attacks on livestock:

* Check stock regularly in case any have been attacked;

* 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 you if they see loose dogs near your livestock.

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