West Sussex NFU chairman Caroline Harriott, who runs a flock of 600 ewes and rears lambs near Arundel, said that over the past decade she had had more than 100 sheep killed or injured in attacks.
The latest, the NFU said, was on Monday, when a professional dog walker took five dogs onto Caroline’s tenanted land near Sompting.
One of the dogs slipped its lead and went on to ‘savagely’ attack two sheep, an NFU spokeswoman said, adding one lamb was so badly maimed it was put down by a vet the same day and another animal had its ear torn off and suffered wounded leg.
Caroline said: “It’s heartbreaking to get a phone call and rush to the field and find the aftermath of an attack – sheep killed, others so badly injured they have to be put down, sheep in absolute terror after being chased round the fields, and sheep so stressed they lose their unborn lambs.
“Another attack was filmed by a member of the public and the image of our sheep being chased round and round the field and repeatedly pushed into fences by the attacking dog is locked in my mind.
“It was just another case too many of one of my sheep being so badly wounded it couldn’t be saved.”
Despite education campaigns and widespread use of signs requesting dog walkers to keep their pets on leads around livestock fields, Caroline believes the problem is getting worse – confirmed by NFU Mutual’s 2019 claims statistics for dog attack claims in the South East, which showed an 87 per cent rise in cost in the past year.
Caroline is concerned that the growing trend for dog owners to leave their pets in the care of professional dog walkers during the day is leading to more attacks.
“Professional dog walkers who walk large numbers of dogs at any one time have become a major problem,” she said.
“Under the present law, one person can take up to six dogs out. To my mind, there’s no way one person can keep six dogs under control in the countryside – even picking up the dog mess is practically impossible.
“I’m amazed how these businesses operate – based on a business model of exercising dogs on private land without any sort of regulation, qualifications, or even permission from the landowners.
“I can’t think of another type of business which can operate like that.
“We need new legislation to bring a workable balance between the dog-owning public and farming. The present laws simply don’t address the problems we are dealing with day-in, day-out.”
As an example of the scale of the problems faced, Caroline explained she had bought a flock of rare-breed sheep to graze conservation land on the Downs.
She said: “Because of the beauty of the area, it’s hugely popular with dog walkers – but we had so many worrying incidents that we have had to take the sheep off that land.”
For dog walkers, her advice was straightforward: “We want people to enjoy the countryside, we simply ask that people keep dogs under control and firmly on the lead whenever there may be livestock about.”
She added: “There are a growing number of farmers who are setting up organised spaces in the countryside where people can exercise their pets outside and in a safe environment.
“We’re encouraged by the schemes’ growing popularity and hope this could play a part in finding a solution.”