SPRING SUNSHINE and 'social distancing' is driving people into rural areas – and increasing the threat to lambing flocks from out-of-control dogs in their fields.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual has made a plea to the public to keep their dogs under control when accessing the countryside for outdoor exercise.

Rural affairs specialist Rebecca Davidson said: “The spring sunshine and social distancing is bringing people out to the countryside at a time when sheep and their new-born lambs are particularly vulnerable to attack.

“There are real concerns that people are congregating in the countryside and putting others at risk by crowding in rural areas. We are urging people to maintain social distancing of two metres apart and not put others, including farmers and other walkers, at risk.

“In farming areas experiencing very high influxes of walkers with dogs, farmers are having to spend additional time patrolling flocks to try and prevent attacks by dogs which is hindering them from getting on with the vital task of producing food for the nation," she claimed.

“UK farmers are working under immense pressure at the moment to feed the nation through the Coronavirus outbreak and we are urging people to keep their dogs under control, to clear up their mess and to be responsible in the countryside.”

Last year, dogs savaged livestock worth £1.2 million, causing suffering to animals and distress to farmers as they dealt with the aftermath. But despite that, a survey of over 1300 dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual earlier this year found that 63% of dog owners let their pets roam free in the countryside, with half admitting that their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

The Mutual offered the following advice:

  • Maintain social distancing of at least two metres when out in the countryside and consider others, including farmers and their families;
  • Keep to footpaths, close gates and don’t block gateways parking your car;
  • Always keep dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept;
  • Be aware that even small lap dogs can attack and kill farm animals;
  • Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to local farmers or the police;
  • Don’t let dogs loose in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby.

More advice on preventing dogs attacking livestock is available from www.nfumutual.co.uk/news-and-stories/preventing-dog-attacks-on-farm-animals/