NFU Mutual is urging all dog owners in East Devon to keep their pet on a lead wherever livestock may be nearby.

The warning follows the latest figures from NFU Mutual which show the UK cost of dog attacks on livestock increased by more than 50 per cent between pre-pandemic 2019 (£1.2 million) and 2022 (£1.8 million). 

Estimates based on claims data from the UK’s leading rural insurer show South West farm animals worth £273,429 were severely injured or killed by dogs last year, making it the second worst affected region by cost in England.

Roz Hills, NFU Mutual’s South West regional manager, said: “The Easter holidays see many people exploring Devon and Cornwall’s beautiful countryside, but they must remember these idyllic rural destinations are key to farmers’ livelihoods and are home to thousands of sheep and new-born lambs.  

“This year’s lambing season is underway across the region, so it is crucial all dog owners act responsibly by keeping their dog on a lead in areas where livestock are nearby, especially near vulnerable sheep and lambs.  

“The Covid-19 pandemic saw many people owning dogs for the first time, but tragically this has been followed by a sharp increase in the cost of livestock attacks.

“It is hard for people to imagine their friendly family pet could chase, injure or kill another animal - but all dogs are capable of this, regardless of breed or size.

“Even dogs chasing sheep can have serious consequences. We’ve heard reports from farmers where sheep and lambs have drowned, suffocated, been run over or chased off cliff edges because of out-of-control dogs.

“Even if a dog does not make contact with a sheep, the distress and exhaustion from being chased can cause a pregnant ewe to miscarry or die. It can also separate young lambs from their mothers, which can lead them to become orphaned.

“If there is an attack, it is important people accept responsibility and report it, either to the police or a local farmer, so that the injured animals are not left suffering.”

PC Chris Collins, Devon and Cornwall Police's rural affairs officer said: “Livestock worrying is a criminal offence and has a devastating impact on livestock, farmers and in some circumstances the dog and the owner.

“In Devon and Cornwall there were 181 reported incidents of livestock worrying during 2020, an alarming increase on previous years.

“Since this, reported incidents have decreased with 140 cases reported in 2022.

“We recognise that some attacks are not reported and would encourage livestock owners to report incidents to police to gain an accurate picture.

“I would urge all to take note of the NFU Mutual’s advice and demonstrate responsible dog ownership.

“Please report all incidents of livestock worrying. If you witness an attack on livestock do not intervene, keep yourself safe and call 999. For all other livestock worrying incidents please email or report crime online.”

The warning comes after NFU Mutual’s survey of over 1,100 dog owners found that despite 64% of owners admitting their dogs chase animals, almost half (46%) believe their dog was not capable of injuring or killing livestock.

Nearly two thirds of owners (64%) say they let their dog roam off-lead in the countryside.

However, almost four in ten (39%) admit that their pets do not always come back when called.

In England, the Midlands was the worst-hit region by cost, with dog attacks on livestock costing an estimated £313,000, followed by the South West.

With many dog owners planning to visit the countryside as the weather improves and at a time when sheep are at their most vulnerable, NFU Mutual is calling for them to:

Keep dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if chased by cattle

Be aware that even small dogs can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals

Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers

Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby