A growing number of dog attacks on livestock, costing farmers millions of pounds in damages, have been linked to pets left to roam in gardens when their owners go out.
New figures from insurer NFU Mutual show UK farmers made claims worth more than £5.2m to recover the costs of attacks on livestock in the last four years.
In England alone, the estimated cost of livestock attacks between 2015 and 2018 was £3.47m. In the North East, including Yorkshire, the estimated cost in the same period was £433,418.
From its claims figures, NFU Mutual, which insures three quarters of UK farmers, estimates that livestock attacks by dogs ended up costing Yorkshire farmers more than £53,000 last year.
Rebecca Davidson, a rural specialist at the insurer, said: “Dog attacks are still at a very high level.
“We are receiving increasing reports of local dogs escaping from homes and attacking sheep, either because their owners do not know or do not care that their dogs are roaming wild and causing havoc.
“Thousands of sheep are being killed and horribly mutilated by dogs and we will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue, and helping police to bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.”
The enduring prevalence of dog attacks on livestock comes despite a survey of 1,232 UK pet owners last month by Petbuzz Market Research finding that more dog owners put their pets on leads when in the vicinity of livestock.
During NFU Mutual’s own research, one in six dog owners admitted their pet had escaped from home, while 52 per cent of people said they allowed their pets to go out in the garden unaccompanied when they are not at home, up from 43 per cent last year.
The period between January and April is the peak time for attacks on livestock, when lambing time coincides with an increase in families visiting and staying in the countryside.
Known as livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals can result in horrific and often fatal injuries. Even if a dog does not make contact, the distress of the chase can cause sheep to die and miscarry their lambs.
Ms Davidson said: “We are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and distress that dog attacks cause. For small farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating because it has a huge impact on their livelihood.
“While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.”
OWNERS URGED TO HEED ADVICE
Amid an unusually spring-like February, and with many families expected to visit the countryside in the coming months, NFU Mutual urged dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times in the countryside.
It also encouraged people to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.
Other advice for dog owners includes familiarising puppies with farm animals from a young age to reduce the risk of them attacking sheep or cattle as adult dogs.
The insurer warns not to let dogs loose in gardens adjoining livestock fields and for dog owners to be aware that even small lap dogs can attack and kill farm animals.