The carnage caused by unruly dogs in the countryside shows little sign of easing, as more owners let their pets off the lead and claims for livestock killed or injured in attacks topped £1.5m in 2021.
A survey of 1,207 dog owners found almost three-quarters (73%) now allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside – up from 64% a year ago.
This is despite about half (49%) saying their dog does not always come back when called.
Based on claims reported, NFU Mutual estimates that farm animals worth £1.52m were injured or killed by dogs in 2021, up from £1.3m the previous year.
Among the worst-hit regions were the south-east of England (£266,000), the Midlands (£242,000) and the South West (£228,000).
In Scotland, the estimated total claims is £68,408, and across Wales it is £306,068.
The rural insurer has reiterated its plea to the public to keep dogs on leads around livestock.
Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Behind the figures, these horrific attacks are causing unbearable suffering to farm animals and anxiety for farmers as they deal with the aftermath.
“There’s a new generation of dog owners whose pandemic puppies are coming of age and they simply don’t know how their dog is going to behave around livestock.
“We want people to enjoy the countryside, and we recognise the huge benefit it brings to people’s wellbeing. We’re simply asking for people to keep their dogs under control and on a lead.”
Plagued by livestock worrying
Wiltshire sheep farmer Steve Carnie has been plagued by livestock worrying and says almost every time there is a dog attack, it results in lambs being seriously injury or killed.
Mr Carnie keeps about 1,200 ewes across 89ha of rented and owned land, around Bradford-on-Avon.
“One of the most recent incidents involved a Staffordshire bull terrier getting into the field and killing a lamb, and also seriously injuring another ewe,” Mr Carnie said.
“It’s a particular problem when the ewes are pregnant. Of course, the damage isn’t always immediately obvious.
“On some occasions, we have had incidents when people have been walking someone else’s dog and they did not realise the dog would give chase to the sheep. There was one lady who this happened to and the owners hadn’t warned her it could attack, she was so furious when it happened.”
Mr Carnie urged the public to keep their dogs under control and said signs he has put up have made little difference.