The National Sheep Association (NSA) has received an increase in reports of attacks on sheep by dogs over recent weeks, most likely linked to continuing Covid-19 restrictions including several regional and national lockdowns across the UK.

Consequently, it is urging the public to take responsibility for their actions when in the countryside, and especially near livestock.

A spokesperson said: "First and foremost, dog owners must keep their animals under control and on a lead when walking near sheep. Not only do dogs pose a threat of injury to sheep, but at this time of year, when most ewes are already or soon to be in lamb the stress of being chased can lead to the pregnant sheep losing their lambs.

"Sheep are a hugely valuable asset to the farmer, and any damage to the flock can have detrimental effects. Likewise, sheep worrying is also a hugely traumatic experience for the shepherd, with several studies carried out by NSA showing that the risk of a potential attack happening causes significant stress and anxiety to farmers.

"Recent cases of sheep worrying have resulted in dogs being shot as a last resort option to halt a serious attack. This, of course, is never an action carried out by a farmer with ease but the law states that a farmer is in his/her rights to shoot an animal if it is found to be in the act of worrying livestock and dog owners should be aware of the potential danger they put their pet dog in if they are not responsible whilst out walking."

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NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “It must be stressed to owners who allow their dogs to chase, attack and potentially kill livestock that it is a criminal act – and for very good reason. Few people would understand the stress and anger that a farmer or shepherd goes through by finding a dog attacking and killing sheep and very occasionally this can result in dogs being shot. We appreciate how distressing this would be for a dog owner but very few farmers would do this out of choice and anyone driven to do this would be highly distressed by the action as well I am certain.

“Attacks on dogs often cause huge financial cost for the farmer but for most the initial stress and anxiety is equally impactful. The only way to avoid incidents like this is for dog owners to take proper responsibility for the dogs – know where they are at all times and keep them on leads anywhere in the vicinity of livestock.”

NSA is also urging dog walkers as well as others enjoying the countryside at this time to be aware of their responsibility in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic. When passing through farmland and farmyards walkers must be vigilant and consider that touching gates, fence posts, and stiles could potentially contaminate them which in turn could increase the viral spread to farmers and other walkers. Contact with these objects should be minimised and hands sanitised or washed as often as possible.