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UK - NFU Mutual campaign launched as livestock worrying at historic high

Despite a fall in the cost of livestock worrying in 2018, rural insurer NFU Mutual is mounting a new campaign urging dog owners to keep their pets under control in the countryside.

Although the cost of claims fell by 17% cent in 2018, attacks remain at historically high levels.

NFU Mutual, which insures three quarters of the UK’s farmers, estimates that the total cost of livestock worrying to the agricultural industry exceeded £1.2m in 2018.

In the south west the cost ran to £211,000.

The cost of claims in 2018 fell in every part of the UK except Wales, where attacks increased by 113%.

New research conducted by the insurer has revealed that over 87 per cent of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with more than 60 per cent letting them roam off the lead.

Compared to 2017 when NFU Mutual conducted the survey of dog owners for the first time, more people (95 per cent compared with 90 per cent in 2017) are now putting their dogs on leads if they see a sign warning that livestock is in a field. However, the number of dog owners who admitted their pet had chased livestock in the past was six per cent.

Most dog owners (61 per cent) say they would try to stop a dog chasing a sheep in the countryside.

The majority of dog owners say they would support measures to crack down on livestock worrying with 75 per cent supporting heavy fines, 66 per cent supporting a ban on dogs in livestock fields during lambing season, 57 per cent supporting laws enabling DNA testing of dogs suspected of attacking livestock and 42 per cent supporting owners whose pets worried livestock being banned from keeping dogs.

But more dog owners are allowing their pets to go out in the garden unaccompanied when they’re not at home (52 per cent in 2019 v 43 per cent in 2018) despite one in six owners admitting their dog has managed to escape.

With many families expected to visit the countryside during the Easter holidays, the insurer has launched a campaign urging dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times in the countryside and for people to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.

NFU Mutual’s campaign also calls for dog owners living in the countryside to make sure their pets cannot escape from their gardens. This follows increasing numbers of reports of attacks by dogs from homes near livestock fields.

Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “While we’ve seen a very welcome fall in the costs of dog attacks on farm animals the level of attacks is still very high – and we are very concerned by the huge surge in claims we have seen in Wales.

“The national fall may be in part due to higher public awareness of the damage that livestock worrying can cause following the efforts of the police, NFU Mutual, the NFU and other rural organisations.

“We are still seeing thousands of sheep being killed and horribly mutilated by dogs and will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue, and helping police to bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.

“The vast majority of dog owners act responsibly when exercising their pets in the countryside. But while more people may be putting their dog on the lead when farm animals are nearby we think a significant proportion of attacks are caused by owners who let them roam from homes adjoining countryside and either don’t know or don’t care that they are attacking farm animals.

“As the insurer of nearly three-quarters of the UK’s 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 businesses. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is still a knock-on effect on breeding programmes that can take years to overcome.”

To help reduce the risk of a dog worrying attack on sheep or cattle, NFU Mutual advises farmers to:

• Check stock regularly in case any have been attacked

• When possible keep sheep in fields away from footpaths

• Put up signs warning dog owners to keep their pets under control on your land

• Maintain fences, walls and hedges to make it more difficult for dogs to get into grazing fields

• Report any attacks to the police immediately

• Ask neighbours to alert you if they see attacks or loose dogs near your livestock

Estimated cost of livestock attacks to UK agriculture in 2018 based on claims reported to NFU Mutual:

Scotland £162,000

Wales £285,000

Northern Ireland £37,000

England £730,000

North West £90,000

East £26,000

South West £211,000

Midlands £212,000

South East £73,000

North East £118,000

UK Total £1.21 million

Totals rounded to nearest £10,000.

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