A FARMER from Addingham is backing a campaign which calls for visitors to the countryside to keep their dogs under control.

It’s a critical time for farmers as the spring lambing period is now well underway, meaning ewes and new born lambs are often grazing close to footpaths, which can put them at risk of dog attacks.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual is concerned that the Easter break could see an influx of walkers unfamiliar with the Countryside Code and unaware of how their new dogs will behave around livestock.

Martin Throup is a second-generation farmer whose family has been farming in Addingham for the last 45 years. His 900 sheep are kept across 650 acres, with footpaths across much of the land and a bridleway through the middle. While Martin says they didn’t used to suffer from dog attacks, it has become an increasing concern with incidents now happening a couple of times a year.

“I lost two heavily-in-lamb ewes to a dog attack last month, with the animals suffering gruesome injuries," he said.

“Over lockdown, we’ve had hundreds of walkers a day across the farm. Some days the paths are swarming with people. Most are responsible, but it only needs a few not taking enough care for our farm to feel the consequences.

“Often a polite word explaining the dangers and costs can help people to understand why keeping their dog on a lead is so important. We also use signs, which help to remind people as they walk across the farm.

“Unfortunately, the sheep have sometimes suffered an attack that I don’t know about. You can’t be everywhere so often don’t witness incidents yourself. You are relying on people to let you know if they see a dog attack take place. Last year a lost dog caused minor injuries to a few of my sheep and I didn’t know until I brought them in a few days later.

“You never know when your dog’s calm attitude could shift to natural hunting instincts. Even small dogs pose a risk, so don’t assume that your dog is OK off the lead. If you do lose control of your dog, please let the farmer know. It could save livestock from suffering with undetected injuries.”

According to a survey of dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual, 88 per cent of people say they now walk their dog in the countryside. While 64 per cent of dog owners say they let their dog run free in the countryside - half admit their pet doesn’t always come back when called.

Many farm animals are seriously injured or killed each year in dog attacks. Livestock worrying cost the North East region an estimated £241,000 last year, according to NFU Mutual statistics.

Across the UK, the cost of dog attacks rose by over 10 per cent in 2020 to an estimated £1.3m.

Even if dogs don’t make contact, the distress of the chase can also cause sheep to die, miscarry and separate lambs from their mothers.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “These attacks cause immense suffering to animals and are devastating for farmers.

“Dog attacks are easily preventable if owners keep their pets under control and on a lead when livestock may be nearby. Doing so keeps sheep and their lambs safe from harm and stops a country walk turning into carnage.”

Walkers are also being urged to report any incidents of livestock worrying they may witness. The ‘What3Words’ app can be used to pinpoint your exact location, so you can report where you have seen an incident to within a 3m x 3m area. Attacks can leave livestock with painful injuries, so prompt and accurate information could save animals hours of suffering.

Alarmingly, only 18 per cent of those surveyed said they would call the police if they saw a dog chasing or attacking livestock and only 15 per cent would report it to the farmer.

To make dog walking safe, NFU Mutual is issuing the following advice:

• Always keep dogs on the lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle

• Be aware that even small lap dogs can chase, injure and kill farm animals

• Take special care to keep close control of dogs unused to farm animals

• Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to the police or local farmers

• Don’t let dogs loose and unsupervised in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby

Advice on preventing dogs attacking livestock is available from NFU Mutual’s website: