TWO leading Cumbrian farming officials have criticised irresponsible dog owners after a shocking report revealed more than £500,000 of livestock was savaged by pets in the North West over the past four years.

Each year farmers count the cost of marauding dogs, with thousands of ewes and lambs killed and maimed in attacks.

The figures released by rural insurance experts NFU Mutual emerged just days after details were revealed of a devastating attack near Carlisle, in which up to 70 sheep died after being savaged by a dog.

National Farmers Union Cumbrian council delegate and west Cumbrian sheep farmer, Alistair Mackintosh said: “People need to respect the countryside. It is a working environment, not a playground. A lot of owners’ are ignorant of their dog’s capabilities. They think because it is lovely and sweet in the home, it is not going to revert to nature when in nature. The real challenge is educating people,” he added.

Ian Bowness, NFU deputy county chairman, who farms at Threapland Lees, near Aspatria said: “Dog walkers are reminded that even the most docile of pets can cause serious injury and death to livestock if they are not walked responsibly, particularly if that dog is not familiar with livestock.”

According to NFU Mutual an increasing number of dog attacks on livestock are happening because of pets escaping from gardens and attacking animals in farmers’ fields. “While it’s encouraging news that more people are putting their dog on the lead while out in the countryside, dog attacks are still at a very high level,” said Rebecca Davison, a spokeswoman for the rural insurance specialist.

She added: “We are increasingly receiving reports of local dogs escaping from homes and attacking sheep, either because their owners do not know or do not care that their dogs are roaming wild and causing havoc. Thousands of sheep are being killed and horribly mutilated by dogs, and we will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue, and helping police to bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.

“We are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and distress that dog attacks cause.”

The knock-on impact of livestock worrying on farm breeding programmes through the losses can take years to overcome, the insurer says.

As well as attacks physically killing animals, the stress can cause miscarriages among sheep which have been chased by out-of-control dogs.

The Lake District National Park Authority has also issued a plea for dog owners to act responsibly in the countryside, placing signs urging extra caution in areas lambing is taking place.

The peak time for worrying incidents is between January and April, which coincides with the lambing season.