OWNERS walking their dogs on the Quantock Hills are being warned to keep their pets on a lead - or potentially risk a heavy fine or see their animal shot.

Dogs must by law be kept on a lead on open access land such as the Quantock hilltops between March 1 and July 31, during which time sheep and lambs are at their most vulnerable.

Elsewhere in the countryside, dogs must be kept under close control.

Quantock Hills AONB ranger Andy Stevenson said it’s not just the physical attacks that cause harm but simply allowing a dog to chase sheep may cause ewes to abort or become injured.

He added: "We’d like to take this opportunity to remind all dog owners to please keep their dogs on leads when walking close to lambs or sheep.

"Even if lambs are not present in a flock, the ewes may well be in lamb and a dog chasing them could cause them to abort."

There have been many instances when Quantock rangers have had to deal with the aftermath of dog attacks on sheep.

Mr Stevenson said in all cases, they could have been easily avoided and the aftermath of having to visit a farmer to tell them their livestock has been injured or killed is a difficult task.

The five-month on-a-lead rule is also to protect ground nesting birds such as nightjars and skylarks, which may be flushed out by dogs, leading to them abandoning their nests.

If your dog does kill or cause harm to livestock, you can be liable for a significant fine and for the value of the livestock harmed - your pet may also be dispatched, the cost of which will also have to be borne by you.

Moreover, if your dog is seen in action harassing livestock it could be shot on sight.

If you witness an attack in progress, call 999 otherwise any incidents witnessed should be reported to the police on 101 or directly to the Quantock Hills AONB office at quantockhills@somerset.gov.uk