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 deaths and injuries to livestock cost farmers an estimated £359,000 in the South West of England in 2023, up 31 per cent from the previous year, latest figures from NFU Mutual reveal.

Across the UK, the estimated cost of livestock worrying soared by nearly 30 per cent to £2.4 million last year.

At the same time, NFU Mutual’s recent survey of over 1,100 dog owners found more people were letting their dogs off leads in the countryside last year than in 2022, 68 per cent and 64 per cent respectively.

Worryingly, less than half (49 per cent) said their pet always comes back when called.

Almost eight per cent admitted their dog chases livestock but 46 per cent believed their dog was not capable of causing the death or injury of farm animals.

It comes as the NFU Mutual-backed Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill is making its way through parliament, aimed at improving powers available to police in dealing with dog attacks on livestock.

Phoebe Turnbull, from NFU Mutual South West, said: “The Easter holidays is a great opportunity to explore the Great British countryside, but people must remember these idyllic rural destinations are working environments, key to farmers’ livelihoods and home to millions of sheep and new-born lambs.

“This year’s lambing season is well underway across the UK, and farmers in the South West of England are understandably worried that an influx of uncontrolled dogs this Easter could cause unnecessary carnage to new-born lambs out in the fields with their mothers for the first time.

“All dogs are capable of disturbing, chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament.

“That’s why we are urging everyone exercising their dogs in the countryside to keep them on a lead wherever livestock may be nearby but to let go if chased by cattle.”

In England, the South West region was the worst-hit region by cost, followed by the Midlands (£331,000).

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.