Dog owners warned over attacks on stock in Northumberland

The NFU has sent out a warning to animal owners to be more responsible when visiting rural communities

A farmer with his flock of sheep
A farmer with his flock of sheep

Concerns are growing over a rising number of dog attacks on livestock in the countryside.

The NFU has sent out a warning to animal owners to be more responsible when visiting rural communities.

The message comes after the latest figures of sheep and cattle being worried by dogs on farms nationally last year, costing farmers an estimated �1m.

In recent years, a number of people have also been killed or seriously injured in incidents as a result of stampeding cattle attempting to protect their young stock.

The NFU is launching its Love Your Countryside campaign in order to highlight how visitors can enjoy the countryside responsibly, as well as keeping themselves safe, while walking through fields grazed by livestock.

An estimated 3.6 billion tourists visit the British countryside every year, with ramblers and walkers making up 18% of all visitors.

However, the public is being urged to take on board a series of measures in order to stay safe, while at the same time, helping farmers to protect livestock from being attacked by dogs.

The vast majority of visitors to the countryside are responsible and do not wish to see livestock endangered according to Willie Curry, who farms at Howick Scar on the Northumberland coastline, near Craster.

“The Craster and Dunstanburgh area attracts a lot of tourists throughout the year and most people act in a responsible manner. Hundreds of visitors walk their dogs most weekends and local farmers appreciate the courtesy of dogs being kept on a lead,” he said.

“There will always be the odd incident but generally, responsible dog owners know the guidelines and are keen to minimise any potential risk to farm livestock or themselves as well as, their pets. It is not in their interest to put the family pet in harm’s way or cause any distress to their dog or harm grazing livestock,” he said.

Tourism is Northumberland’s second largest industry and the county attracts thousands of visitors each year to the region. With the summer holidays fast approaching, Mr Curry suggested visitors should follow the countryside guidelines in order to protect themselves, other family members, their pets and farm livestock.

Dog-worrying in sheep flocks usually happens during the lambing season as new-born lambs and their mothers are put on to the spring grass. Easter is the traditional time for lambing and is often the first chance for people to visit the countryside and enjoy the holiday period.

Pathways across fields do not always carry warning notices for visitors to keep their dogs on a lead and over-enthusiastic dogs can often cause distress to animals by simply being in a field.

Most sheep are used to working farm dogs being in their farm environment, but ewes can be extremely protective especially when mothering their new-born offspring. Spring and autumn calving suckler cows are also open to attack from loose or stray dogs. Suckler cows are generally more protective, having bonded with their offspring, and are more likely to chase dogs or their owners, as they can feel pressured by the presence of intruders into their herd environment.

NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said: “The countryside is a beautiful place to walk in. However, it is maintained this way because it is working environment where animals graze, so it’s important to take care and be mindful of your surroundings.

“When walking with dogs in fields with cattle, the advice is to avoid getting between cows and their calves and to keep any dogs close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep. You should not hang onto your dog if you are threatened by cattle though – let it go, as the cattle will chase the dog.

“Farmers also have a responsibility as to the safety of the animals in the fields and they take that responsibility seriously. But we would urge anyone using the countryside to be sympathetic to farm animals rearing their young and give them space.”

Farmers have responsibility as to the safety of the animals in fields and take that responsibility seriously


David Whetstone
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