Dog attacks spark warning

Be responsible near livestock this spring – that s the plea from a South West insurer on behalf of the region s farming community, following a sharp increase last year in sheep worrying claims.

Be responsible near livestock this spring - that's the plea from a South West insurer on behalf of the region's farming community, following a sharp increase last year in sheep worrying claims.

Cornish Mutual says that 2008 was its worst year on record for the number of claims made in relation to dog attacks on sheep and is now warning dog owners and walkers to be on their guard especially during the current lambing season..

According to the insurance firm, which has offices in Truro and Exeter, it saw an average claim of around �500 per incident across Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset and fourteen claims were made during last year alone.

Farm and landowners are legally allowed to shoot any dogs that threaten livestock and under the Dogs (Prevention of Livestock) Act 1953 dog owners can be sued for compensation.

Chris Ridgers, business development manager for Cornish Mutual said: "I believe these figures are just the tip of the iceberg because many cases of sheep worrying go unreported and no claim is even made. It's all too common an occurrence and it's so easily preventable. People just need to think carefully when they are walking in the countryside, be responsible and keep their dogs on leads when they are near livestock.

He added: "Farmers' livelihoods depend on their livestock and sheep worrying can be really very serious for the animal, even if they're not physically harmed. Scaring them or chasing them can also have dire consequences for the livestock."

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The plea from Cornish Mutual comes after two rottweilers recently savaged and killed fifteen sheep near Denbigh in North Wales.

Cornish Mutual Member Jack Palk who owns a farm near Paignton has had to make four sheep worrying claims over the last two years. During one incident he was called during the early hours of the morning to be told his sheep were on a road with two dogs chasing them. Three animals died and five others had to be treated by a vet.

Jack said: "In the last two years, I can think of at least four attacks on our sheep. We find this of great concern, especially as it affects our livelihood. We hope that in future people will keep greater control over their dogs."

Chris continued: "This time of the year is most concerning for our Members - many of their ewes are pregnant and vulnerable. Because of the stress of an incident, the animal may abort their foetuses or be chased away from the flock into a nearby road or river."

It is estimated that thousands of livestock and cattle are killed or seriously injured each year across the South West and the region's farming industry fears another sharp increase in incidents during 2009, with the introduction of the right-to-roam legislation improving public access to the countryside.