Dog owners are being warned to keep their pets under control in the countryside as the cost of insurance claims from livestock worrying has reached a record level.
New figures show the cost of dog attacks on livestock reported to rural insurer NFU Mutual rose by nearly 50 per cent across the UK in 2016.
Between January and April, when pregnant ewes and lambs are often grazing on low-lying pasture in areas more accessible to walkers, the cost of claims more than doubled.
Stephen Percival, 29, who works for a livestock haulage company, keeps 20 pedigree show Texel ewes as a hobby at his father-in-law’s farm in Newhaven, near Buxton.
Just before Christmas last year, he lost one of his prize-winning sheep, which he had bred himself, as a result of livestock worrying.
Stephen called a vet, who said the sheep had broken her back and would never recover. She was put down on Christmas Eve.
NFU Mutual’s Bakewell office is working with Stephen to reimburse his financial loss, which is estimated at £2,500.
“I was gutted,” Stephen said. “I’d bred this sheep myself and she was expecting twins. I have a very small flock and I know each one – her mother and grandmother are in the group. Money can’t compensate for losing her.”
“It only takes a split second for a dog to go on the attack,” he said.
“Livestock worrying is as upsetting for owners, who risk their family pet being shot, as it is for farmers.”
With many families expected to visit the countryside during half-term and the Easter holidays, NFU Mutual is urging people to keep their dogs on a lead at all times. Farmers have the right to shoot dogs if they are chasing sheep or cattle.
Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “It’s not just big, aggressive-looking dogs that attack livestock – well-behaved family pets can worry sheep or cattle. And once a dog has attacked livestock, there is a high probability that it will strike again.
“Dog owners need to be especially careful at this time of year when they’re out for their usual walk, as there may be a flock of sheep on their route, which wasn’t there yesterday.
“We are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and huge financial loss that dog attacks cause. Unfortunately, not all farmers are insured and they can face substantial costs if they lose a number of animals.
“For small and hobby farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating.”