A leading rural insurer has warned farmers to watch our for livestock worrying - as the cost of claims has reached a record high.

With people expected to visit the countryside during half-term and the upcoming Easter holidays, NFU Mutual has launched a campaign urging dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times.

New figures show the cost of dog attacks on livestock reported to the insurer rose by nearly 50 per cent across the UK in 2016.

As such, NFU Mutual are advising farmers to check their stock regularly, put up warning signs and make sure hedges, walls and fences are properly maintained.

The total cost to the industry is estimated at £1.4m, and has more than trebled in Scotland and doubled in the Midlands.

Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: "As the insurer of nearly three-quarters of the UK’s farmers and many hobby farmers, we are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and huge financial loss that dog attacks cause.

“For small farmers in particular, livestock worrying is devastating because it has a huge impact on their productivity.

"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.

“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.

“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. Often, farmers don’t report livestock worrying because their sheep have simply disappeared, or they can’t prove the animals’ deaths or injuries were caused by dogs.”