Dog Walkers Warned

BY NICK PEARCE

Police have issued a stark warning to those who choose to walk their dogs in the countryside as lambing season begins on farms across Wiltshire.

Dog owners with the countryside on their doorsteps are able to enjoy it despite the coronavirus lockdown laws, meaning the risk of livestock being attacked by dogs is less likely, but still possible.

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Police in Cirencester, just north of Swindon, posted a graphic photograph of a dead lamb alongside a dog which has been shot legally by a farmer this time last year on social media to show the possible consequences of allowing your pet to run free in farmers’ fields.

Alongside the photograph, Gloucestershire Constabulary commented: “Lambs are currently been born and as usual we will see lots of lambs being killed by dogs. This is what happened near Cirencester last year. He was shot by the farmer. The farmer was not to blame, he was legally protecting his livestock after too many of his lambs had been killed.”

Wiltshire Police has also warned residents to make sure their dogs are on leads around livestock.

A spokesperson for Wiltshire’s rural crime team said: “If you are exercising in the countryside, please stay on the footpath and keep dogs on a lead around livestock.

“Livestock worrying isn’t just if your dog bites or attacks livestock. It’s also if your dog chases livestock in a way as may be reasonably expected to cause injury/suffering or not having a dog on a lead or under close control when close by, or in a field with livestock.

“Public footpaths are clearly marked – please do not stray from these into farmer’s land. This is trespassing. If you are using a public right of way across agricultural land, please leave gates and property as you find them and stick to the marked paths.”

Meanwhile NFU Mutual is urging dog walkers to keep their pets under control while exercising on farmland following a series of attacks on sheep in recent days. The leading rural insurer is concerned that walkers taking dogs unfamiliar with farm animals into the countryside may not be aware that their pets could follow their instincts to hunt and attack sheep and lambs.

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist, said: “These horrific attacks have left a trail of dead and seriously-injured sheep and new-born lambs so we are urging dog walkers to keep their pets on the lead at all time when exercising them in countryside where livestock are reared. Walking dogs on a lead also ensures people can safely keep two metres away from others. Livestock worrying causes appalling suffering to sheep and lambs – and during the coronavirus crisis the threat of attacks it is adding to farmers’ anxiety when they are already under immense pressure. Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress and exhaustion of the chase can cause a sheep to die. Many walkers are also failing to clear up after their dog, which can spread disease to livestock. Some farming areas are experiencing increased numbers of walkers with dogs, with farmers having to spend additional time patrolling flocks to try and prevent attacks which is hindering them from getting on with the vital task of producing food for the nation. There are real concerns that high numbers of people using farmland footpaths for exercise are putting older farmers in particular at risk. Together with the farmers’ unions, we are urging people to maintain social distancing of two metres apart and not put others, including farmers, their families and other rural dwellers at risk.”

NFU Mutual’s claims figures show that livestock worth £1.2m were attacked by dogs last year. A survey of over 1,300 dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual also revealed that 63% of dog owners let their pets roam free in the countryside, despite half admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

NFU Mutual has produced a coronavirus guide for exercise on farmland footpaths:

The guide includes advice such as:

  • Maintaining social distancing of at least two metres when out in the countryside and consider others, including farmers and their families
  • Avoiding footpaths which go through farmyards or close to farmhouses
  • Keeping to footpaths, close gates and don’t block gateways
  • Always keeping dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept. Walking your dog on a lead also ensures you can safely keep two metres away from others.