THE number of dog attacks on sheep is rising in Cumbria, and worried farmers believe the surge in dog ownership during the coronavirus lockdown may be to blame.

Uncontrolled dogs can cause anxiety and miscarriages in livestock - as well as horrific injuries and death.

The most recent NFU Mutual data show that, nationally, the claims costs of dog attacks on farm animals rose to more than £1.8million in 2022.

Cumbrian farmers are also reporting a significant rise in incidents. National Farmers Union (NFU) member David Parry, who runs a sheep farm near Wigton, has lost more than eight sheep to dog attacks over the years.

He said: “There was a big rise in dog ownership in lockdown and many people don’t understand what can happen in the countryside when they don’t have control of their dogs.

"Sadly the situation has been getting worse.

“It does have a financial impact on the business, but the animal welfare issue is the main concern.

“It is really awful to see the animals suffer in this way and it is upsetting for the pet owners who just didn’t expect their dog was capable of such things.”

Livestock worrying includes barking, chasing, biting and killing and is a criminal offence.

Dog owners could be liable for prosecution or a fine. Under the Animals Act 1971, a dog could also be shot if caught in the act by a landowner.

As the lambing season gets underway, the NFU said it is now working with Cumbria Police to urge pet owners to obey the countryside code and ensure their dogs are kept under control.

Sergeant Amanda McKirdy of Cumbria Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team, said: “We urge dog owners to keep their pets on leads around livestock.

“The majority of dog owners do take care around livestock but it’s extremely important to follow signs and stick to footpaths. It is also important to check your properties and gardens are secure when you have dogs.”

Deputy Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Mike Johnson, added: “We have many farmers and agricultural businesses in the county whose livelihoods depend on the health of their livestock.

“At this time of year many ewes are lambing, and these sheep and offspring are highly vulnerable and we have an individual and community responsibility to ensure that we all get to enjoy our countryside without causing distress and harm to livestock.

“It is our duty as dog owners, and owners of dog walking businesses, to ensure that all dogs are kept on a lead when in a field with or near livestock, no matter how well trained these dogs are.

“Please keep your dogs on a lead, and respect and enjoy your surroundings.”