Dog owners across Sussex are being warned to keep their pets under control in the countryside as the cost of insurance claims from livestock worrying has reached a record level.
New figures show the cost of dog attacks on livestock reported to rural insurer NFU Mutual rose by nearly 50 per cent in the South-East and across the UK in 2016.
Between January and April, when pregnant ewes and lambs are often grazing on low-lying pasture in areas more accessible to walkers, the cost of claims more than doubled.
With many families expected to visit the countryside during half-term and the Easter holidays, NFU Mutual is urging people to keep their dogs on a lead at all times.
Farmers have the right to shoot dogs if they are chasing sheep or cattle.
Tim Price, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “It’s not just big, aggressive-looking dogs that attack livestock – well-behaved family pets can worry sheep or cattle. And once a dog has attacked livestock, there is a high probability that it will strike again.
“Dog owners need to be especially careful at this time of year when they’re out for their usual walk, as there may be a flock of sheep on their route, which wasn’t there yesterday.
“We are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and huge financial loss that dog attacks cause. Unfortunately, not all farmers are insured and they can face substantial costs if they lose a number of animals.
“For small and hobby farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, the stress of worrying can cause ewes to abort their lambs. This leads to a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.
“The number of incidents reported to us is a small fraction of the total, which we estimate cost the industry £1.4 million last year.
“We are seeing higher individual costs of claims resulting from worrying, which may be due to an increase in numbers of some pedigree and rare breed sheep.”
Tips for dog owners:
When in fields with livestock, keep your dog on a lead and under control at all times
Familiarise your dog with livestock from a young age
Always check for livestock in fields when walking your dog