Public footpath sign with 'dogs on leads' under it©Andy Drysdale/Rex Shutterstock

A Norfolk farmer says he will be forced to plough up his field margins unless dog walkers keep their animals under control.

Richard Hirst, who farms at Carr Farm, Ormesby St Margaret, also said he would shoot on sight any dog seen worrying sheep.

See also: Police reveal true extent of dog attacks on sheep

For the past 15 years, Mr Hirst and his family have provided almost three miles of public footpaths around the village under an agri-environment agreement.

But he said the number of dogs off the lead and fouling his land had become intolerable over the past year.

As well as losing sheep to dog attacks, Mr Hirst said he could lose “lorry-loads of produce” if dogs were found to be fouling in fields.

“People think they have an absolute right to let their dogs run amok and we get more and more abuse from people whenever we point it out to them,” reported the Eastern Daily Press.

“We had two ewes mauled by a dog and one had to be put down.”

The National Sheep Association says dog walkers have special responsibilities when it comes to ensuring their animals are kept under control near livestock.

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence.

Sheep worrying includes attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce or being at large in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.

The Countryside and Right of Way Act (Crow Act) sets out public rights of access to open land and the restrictions to these rights in England and Wales.

Although Crow allows anyone on to open access land for recreation, the Act states that the public can only go on this land if they keep dogs on a fixed lead of 2m or less near livestock.

The owner of open access land can close areas containing sheep to dogs for up to six weeks once a year, as a safeguard during lambing.

Trained guide and hearing dogs are still allowed in these areas during this closure.

The Countryside Code offers advice on walking dogs near livestock, as well as other information on how to enjoy a safe and responsible trip to a rural area in England and Wales.

The code reminds walkers that a farmer “may shoot a dog which is attacking or chasing farm animals without being liable to compensate the dog’s owner”.