Dog attacks on livestock cost farmers across the Midlands more than £220,000 last year, according to figures released by NFU Mutual.
The cost of dog attacks on farm animals nationally rose by 10% to an estimated £1.3m in 2020 – with growing concerns that the coming weeks will see an influx of walkers as the easing of lockdown restrictions coincides with the peak lambing period.
The worst-affected region by cost was north-east, where livestock worth an estimated £240,000 were savaged by dogs. The Midlands was the next most seriously-affected areas alongside the south-west and Wales.
Increase in ownership
NFU Mutual statistics believes the increase was largely driven by an increase in dog ownership and more people walking in the countryside due to travel and social-distancing restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A recent survey of dog owners commissioned by the rural insurer reveals that 64% of dog owners are letting their pets roam free in the countryside, despite half of owners surveyed admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.
The research also reveals that 42% of dog owners have been walking their pets more often in the countryside during the pandemic, and that 81% of survey respondents have noticed more people exercising their pets in rural areas.
“We have seen many more horrific attacks resulting in large numbers of sheep being killed and a trail of horrific injuries,” said NFU Mutual rural affairds specialist Rebecca Davidson. “These attacks cause unbearable suffering to farm animals as well as huge anxiety for farmer”
She added: “There is widespread concern as we enter the peak lambing season, that there will be a surge in new visitors who are simply unaware of the countryside code or how their dog will behave around farm animals.
Distress and exhaustion
Ms Davidson said she wanted people to enjoy the countryside because it was important for their wellbeing. But she added: “It’s vital that dog owners act responsibly and keep dogs on a lead whenever there is a possibility livestock are nearby.”
Many dog owners don’t realise the pain and anguish sheep can suffer simply by being chased by a dog. Alarmingly, only 40% of the dog owners surveyed accepted that their pet could cause the injury or death of a farm animal.
“Even if a dog doesn’t make physical contact, the distress and exhaustion of the chase can cause sheep to die or miscarry their lambs. It’s important that owners realise that all dog breeds, not just the big, fierce looking ones, are capable of attacking livestock, or chasing them.”
The upward trend in attacks follows some encouraging decreases in incidents. “Although we had seen some encouraging decreases in the overall UK cost of livestock attacks over the last two years, sadly 2020 has seen an upward trend.”