FARM animals worth £88,000 were injured or killed by dogs in the North West last year.

And with peak lambing season underway in the county, dog owners are being urged to keep their pets under control around livestock.

NFU Mutual research released today (Wednesday, March 2) found almost three quarters of dog owners (73 percent) now allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside – up from (64 percent) a year ago. This is despite around half (49 percent) saying their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Behind the figures, these horrific attacks are causing unbearable suffering to farm animals and anxiety for farmers as they deal with the aftermath.

“There’s a new generation of dog owners whose pandemic puppies are coming of age and they don’t know how their dog is going to behave around livestock.

“It’s hard for people to imagine that their affectionate, family pet could injure or kill another animal and it’s not only physical attacks that can harm livestock. Even if a small dog chases sheep and they don’t make contact, they can separate lambs from their mothers or the distress and exhaustion from the chase can cause a pregnant ewe to die or miscarry.”

Rebecca Davidson added: “Livestock attacks can have a huge impact on farmers’ livelihoods. 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 want people to enjoy the countryside and recognise the huge benefit it brings to people’s wellbeing. We’re simply asking for people to keep their dogs under control and on a lead.”

With many dog owners planning to visit the countryside during coming weeks as the weather improves, and sheep are at their most vulnerable, NFU Mutual is calling for dog owners to: 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 dogs can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals; Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers; Don’t let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby.

A spokesperson from Cumbria Police said: “It’s lambing season in Cumbria. If out in the countryside please keep your dog on a lead. Sheep worrying is a crime.”