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Livestock worrying: Dog owners are told to keep pets in check as lambing season starts





Dog owners are being asked to keep their pets in check over the coming weeks as lambing season gets underway.

With Easter expected to trigger an increase in visitors to the countryside, walkers with dogs in tow are being reminded of the rules amid fears attacks on livestock will increase.

Dog owners are being reminded of the Countryside Code. Picture: iStock
Dog owners are being reminded of the Countryside Code. Picture: iStock

The scale of livestock worrying

Across the UK, the estimated cost of livestock worrying soared by nearly 30% to £2.4 million last year.

However at the same time, NFU Mutual claims its recent survey of 1,100 dog owners found more people were letting their pets off leads in the countryside last year than in 2022 – while just 49% said their pet would always come back when called.

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Hannah Binns, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist, said: “The Easter holidays is a great opportunity to explore the Great British countryside, but people must remember these idyllic rural destinations are working environments, key to farmers’ livelihoods and home to millions of sheep and new-born lambs.”

Many lambs are being put into fields for the first time. Image: iStock.
Many lambs are being put into fields for the first time. Image: iStock.

What are the rules?

When on open access land, or at the coast, dog owners must put their animals on a lead when around livestock – says The Countryside Code.

But between March 1 and July 31 dogs must be on a short lead of no longer than two metres by law – even if there is no livestock visible on the land.

This is to both protect livestock and ground-nesting birds.

Dog walkers are being told to put their animals on leads when on land designated as ‘open access’. Image: iStock.
Dog walkers are being told to put their animals on leads when on land designated as ‘open access’. Image: iStock.

A farmer can shoot a dog - makes clear the government on its gov.uk website – if it is attacking or chasing livestock and they may not be liable to compensate the dog’s owner.

Alongside this, the advice is to always check local signs or displays as there may be situations where walkers need to keep animals on leads at other times of the year while some areas may also ban dogs completely – except for assistance dogs – which would be made clear on notices displaying local restrictions.

Dogs should also never be let loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – as many attacks are often caused by pets which escape and attack neighbouring sheep which are grazing.

By law, dogs must be on a lead at this time of year on open access land. Image: iStock.
By law, dogs must be on a lead at this time of year on open access land. Image: iStock.

However if walkers out in the countryside find themselves threatened – or being chased themselves – by livestock such as cows or horses, the advice is to release a dog from its lead if letting go means you’re both more likely to be able to reach a point of safety.

And if there is an attack – dog owners are asked to report it to police or local farmers to ensure any injured animal is not left to suffer.

Hannah Binns added: “This year’s lambing season is well underway across the UK, and farmers are understandably worried that an influx of out-of-control dogs this Easter could cause unnecessary carnage to new-born lambs out in the fields with their mothers for the first time.

“All dogs are capable of disturbing, chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament.”



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