Livestock attacks in Midlands cost £900,000 in four years as owners allow dogs to roam from home

• Livestock worth £912,000 savaged by dogs in the Midlands over the past four year

• One in six owners admit their dog has escaped from home - sparking concerns that unsupervised pets are attacking livestock

• The peak time for attacks is January-April during the lambing period

Leading rural insurer NFU Mutual is mounting a new campaign urging dog owners to keep their pets under control, as horrific attacks on sheep and other livestock continue to take their toll on farmers in the Midlands.

Although new research1 shows more dog owners are putting their pets on leads when livestock are nearby, the insurer is increasingly concerned by reports that many attacks are being caused by dogs which have been let out in gardens, escaping and attacking sheep in neighbouring fields.

The research by NFU Mutual reveals one in six owners admitted their dog had escaped from home. However more and more people (52%) are allowing their pets to go out in the garden unaccompanied when they're not at home (up from 43% last year).

According to claims figures from NFU Mutual, which insures three quarters of farmers, farm animals worth more than £900,000 have been savaged by dogs in the Midlands over the past four years.

Known as livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals can result in horrific and often fatal injuries. Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress of the chase can cause sheep to die and miscarry their lambs. The peak time for attacks is from January to April, during the lambing period, which coincides with the period when families visit and stay in the countryside over the coming months.

According to the research carried out this year, 87% of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with over 60% letting them roam off the lead (down from 64% in 2018).

If there is a sign warning dog owners that livestock are in a field, more people (95%) are putting their dogs on the lead than in 2018, (90%). However, the number of dog owners who said their pet had chased livestock in the past was 6%.

Most dog owners (61%) would try to stop a dog chasing a sheep in the countryside and supported measures to crack down on the problem of livestock worrying. Three quarters of dog owners said they would support heavy fines, 66% would support a ban on dogs from livestock fields during lambing season, while 57% would back laws enabling DNA testing of dogs and 42% would support owners being banned from keeping dogs if their pet had been involved in an attack.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Insurance Specialist at Midlands-based NFU Mutual, said: “While it’s encouraging news that more people are putting their dog on the lead while out in the countryside, 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.

“As the insurer of nearly three-quarters of the UK’s farmers, we are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and distress that dog attacks cause. For small farmers in the Midlands 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.”

With many families expected to visit the countryside over the coming months, the insurer is urging dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times in the countryside and for people to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.