The NFU has joined with Surrey Hills AONB in appealing to walkers to keep dogs on a lead around farm animals and follow the countryside code.
Heather Kerswell, Chair of the Surrey Hills AONB Board, said: “The past year has drawn more people than ever towards our green spaces. As lockdown measures ease over the coming months and the weather improves, we are expecting the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be a popular destination for both locals and visitors.
“Please be aware that our local farms are under great seasonal pressures during this time. Our farmers and land managers need your support by keeping to designated foot paths and bridleways, keeping dogs on leads, being careful not to trample on crops, closing gates and ensuring we all practice the Countryside Code values of ‘Respect – Protect – Enjoy’. We ask everyone to act responsibly to ensure the countryside is a safe place for all.”
The NFU’s livestock farmer members are appealing to dog walkers to #takethelead and use a lead when walking in the countryside. The warning comes as 16 million ewes are giving birth to lambs across the UK between now and late spring. All too often sheep, in particular, end up being killed or horribly mutilated by out-of-control pet dogs.
Surrey NFU chairman Richard Keen, who farms sheep, cattle and poultry at Etherley Farm, Ockley, near Dorking, said: “The number of dog attacks on livestock across our region remains high, with distressing consequences for both farmers and dog owners whose pet could be shot if it’s caught in the act. Most attacks are completely preventable, so we are appealing to dog owners to keep their dog on a lead around livestock and check that their properties are dog proof. If chased, pregnant ewes (female sheep) can commonly lose their lambs or die from stress and exhaustion.”
He added: “Our message comes with more and more people out and about walking dogs in the countryside. The vast majority of dog owners behave responsibly, but sadly a minority allow their pets to run freely in fields where farm animals may be grazing. Spring is here and young livestock are particularly vulnerable, so please #takethelead, take extra care and avoid an animal welfare tragedy.”
The NFU reminds people that if chased by cattle, they should release their dog off the lead and get themselves to safety.
These #takethelead messages will be amplified by the NFU on social media this spring and via signs erected by farmers along footpaths. The NFU is also campaigning for the Countryside Code to be taught in primary schools.