Several of our forest walks are adjacent to stretches of farmland and, with the Heart of England Forest’s lambing season due to start in April, it is essential that the legion of dog walkers that use our footpaths take extra care to keep control of their pets.
A growing problem
Rural insurer NFU Mutual estimates that more than 18,500 livestock were killed or injured in dog attacks across the UK in 2015, costing farmers around £1.1million in lost animals. This figure is a 35% rise on that of the previous year and shows a concerning trend.* While we appreciate that the majority of dog walkers using the Heart of England Forest are a responsible bunch, it’s worth remembering that many breeds of dog are fascinated by the sight of a flock of sheep and can be amongst them in a split second. We are sure we can rely on our happy band of walkers to ‘take the lead’ in more ways than one!
While many dogs are merely satisfying their curiosity by taking a closer look at sheep, events can quickly spiral as their interest is piqued by the sheep moving quickly away from them. Misinterpreting this as an invitation to play, dogs often begin what they see as a game of chase, but this can prove extremely distressing for the sheep. Pregnant ewes can miscarry their unborn young, while in others it can trigger heart attacks. If there are newborn lambs in the field, they can be separated from their mothers and permanent abandonment may follow. Then there are dogs that will simply attack the sheep, killing or maiming them so severely that they must be put down. Often, dogs who have previously seemed docile and uninterested in livestock can find their primitive genes re-awakened and they transform into attackers without warning.
Keeping the neighbours happy
Thankfully, so far this year, we have had no specific reports of dogs straying from our footpaths to worry sheep or other livestock. We are naturally keen to maintain the excellent relationship we have with our local farmers and so would ask anyone walking their pets on our paths to remain vigilant.
Landowner Phil Statham, whose sheep graze on land adjacent to our Giddings Wood and Martins Corner walks, reminds dog walkers to keep control of their pets at all times around livestock. “It can only take a second for a dog that is not on a lead to slip through a fence or hedge and cause havoc among a flock of sheep”, he says. “I urge dog walkers to act with consideration and responsibility when in the countryside and their compliance with the countryside code would be greatly appreciated by all livestock owners”.
Please take the lead!
Cattle, too, often interest dogs. The dangers here are reversed, of course, as a single kick from a frisky bullock can kill or severely injure your beloved family pet. The advice here is to avoid cattle where possible, keeping your dog on a lead unless you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being chased by a herd, when the best course of action is to release the dog and allow him or her to find the nearest escape route!
The NFU and The Kennel Club have recently formed a partnership to highlight the need for care when out dog walking in the countryside and the message is simple – STAY SAFE AND USE A LEAD AROUND LIVESTOCK.
Here’s hoping you, and your dog, continue to enjoy your walks in safety……
*Source – Farmers Weekly online