Police have been raising awareness of the issue of livestock worrying amid a 50 per cent increase in compensation claims from farmers.
Livestock worrying is a criminal offence and the penalty can be six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £1000. Wiltshire Police have urged dog owners to be responsible when out enjoying the countryside and to keep all dogs on a lead around any livestock.
A police spokesman said: "Whether your dog is large or small, naughty or well behaved, the message is simple. Keep your dog on a lead when you are near livestock. You can’t assume your dog’s good nature means it won’t chase or attack livestock. If your dog’s natural instinct to chase livestock kicks in it could be too late before you realise anything is wrong.
"Any risk of livestock worrying can be avoided by simply putting our dogs on a lead.Always release the lead if chased by cattle and get yourself to safety – your dog will get itself out safely."
Andi Witcombe, the National Farmers Union (NFU) county adviser for Wiltshire said: “Livestock worrying is a significant and increasing issue for our farmers across Wiltshire. The NFU Mutual found that in 2016 they had 50 per cent more claims compared to the previous year. Particularly at this time of year from January to May time when sheep are in the field and lambing.
“British farmers rear their livestock to some of the highest welfare standards across the world. Having dogs chase or worry their animals seriously undermines that.
“There is a financial impact for businesses, a ewe might be worth £150 to £200 and a lamb potentially £80 to £100. If animals are killed there is a financial issue there, but also if they are stressed and worried it can affect their growth and fertility causing long term impacts as well.
“For the farmer it is particularly distressing and worrying, they spend every day of the year taking care of their animals and to see them worried or injured is incredibly distressing for them.”
PC Marc Jackson, the operational Rural Crime lead for Wiltshire said that dog owners could help. He said: “If the public are out walking and they see livestock and they are not sure how their dog is going to react they could look for an alternative route round that area or place their dog on a lead.
“The public need to be aware that sometimes when entering a field you may be able to see a small part of it. So you need to be 100 per cent sure before you go in that there are no livestock out of site, maybe over the brow of a hill.
“We want people to go out there and enjoy the countryside. If people are out using the public rights of way with a dog, use a bit of common sense. Use a lead if there is livestock around and don’t deviate from the footpaths as potentially they could be trespassing.”
If you see anything suspicious call 101 or 999 if you can see a crime is in progress.