With Easter set to see an increase in visitors to the countryside, NFU Mutual is reminding dog owners to be extra vigilant at a time when sheep and lambs are at their most vulnerable.

The warning comes as Scottish farm animals worth an estimated £123,000 were severely injured or killed in Scotland in 2023, more than double the 2022 cost, latest figures from NFU Mutual reveal.

NFU Scotland policy adviser for rural business, Rhianna Montgomery, said: “While we encourage the public to enjoy the countryside over Easter, we must stress the importance of responsible dog ownership.

“This time of year is extremely important to farmers with many in the swings of lambing. It is also a very vulnerable time for the sheep yet to lamb and those with lambs at foot. Please avoid livestock where possible and if you come across sheep with or without lambs, ensure your dog is on a lead as this is where you have the most control.”

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Inspector Jordan Low of Police Scotland added: “Protecting livestock is an important issue and a priority for members of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC).

“As we approach the Easter break, we want people to enjoy the countryside but to do so in a safe and responsible manner.

“Livestock worrying and attacks can result in injury, miscarriage and even death. The damage and distress caused not just to the animals, but the farming business is considerable. It is also a crime. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to ensure their dog is on a lead and under control when livestock is present. Failure to do so can result in a £40,000 fine or a 12-month prison sentence.

“We have several tools at our disposal to investigate instances of livestock worrying and attacks, and will utilise these to investigate instances of irresponsible dog ownership around livestock.

“Police Scotland, through SPARC, is committed to working with its partners to increase public awareness of the legislation to protect livestock from dog attacks and irresponsible dog owners will be prosecuted.”

NFU Mutual’s tips for dog owners visiting the countryside this Easter:

• Keep dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept, but let go of the lead if chased by cattle

• Be aware that all dogs, regardless of size, breed, and temperament, can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals

• Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers

• Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby