The cost of dog attacks on livestock in the UK rose by more than 10% to an estimated £1.3m in 2020, new figures show.
The worst-affected region was the North East, where farm animals worth an estimated £240,000 were savaged by dogs. The Midlands, the South West and Wales were also badly affected.
The NFU Mutual claims statistics illustrate the desperate situation for farmers, who have to deal with the emotional distress of discovering badly injured and dead animals and the financial loss.
The increase in the number of people getting out into the countryside to enjoy walks during lockdown (see “Revealing numbers” below) has prompted warnings for farmers ahead of this lambing season.
Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “It’s a critical time in the farming calendar and there is widespread concern that, as we enter the peak lambing season 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.
“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.”
There have been renewed calls for dog walkers to use a lead and keep their pets under control near livestock.
An NFU Mutual survey quizzed 1,237 dog owners and revealed that:
- 64% say they let their pet roam free in the countryside – yet half admit their dog does not always come back when called
- 42% have been walking their pet more often in the countryside during the pandemic
- 81% have noticed more people exercising their pets in rural areas
- Only 40% accepted that their pet could potentially injure or kill livestock
- Only 33% said they would report an attack taking place to the police or the farmer.
Case study: ‘We’re in a dog war zone’
Hampshire sheep farmer Gordon Wyeth suffered three separate dog attacks on three consecutive days.
“It is a constant battle and all I am doing is picking up the pieces,” he said. “It doesn’t just cost money, it is the time and trauma. We’re in a dog war zone.”
On Saturday 23 January, 500 in-lamb ewes were chased and attacked by a terrier near Crondall village. On Sunday 24 January the farmer’s son and a farmworker discovered a pedigree ram with its throat ripped out in a field on Holybourne Down, Alton.
The pair confronted two men who were trying to wipe the ram’s blood off their dog.
Then on Monday 25 January a large dog killed six lambs at Manydown, near Basingstoke. The dog was being walked by a “professional dog walker” and had been responsible for a separate attack on sheep before Christmas, Mr Wyeth said.
The devastated farmer added: “I want some proper deterrence and I want these people prosecuted. The lambs were badly ripped into. The dog went for the back legs.
“When any attack happens we have to go back through and check all the sheep again. They are covered in wool so it’s not exactly easy to see what is going on, and any bites can become infected.”