Police are holding an event in the Lake District this month to stress the importance of keeping dogs under control near sheep.
Buttermere will be the picturesque setting for the Livestock Awareness Day on Sunday April 14, where dog walkers will be given friendly advice on how pets should be handled around flocks.
The location has been chosen for its popularity with dog walkers.
At least four lambs were lost in sheep worrying incidents nearby in February after dogs were let off leads.
Inspector Richard Smillie said: “This is the last Sunday of the school Easter holidays and so we fully expect this area to be very busy with dog walkers and people just enjoying a day out.
“It’s not just education. A farmer is expected to bring a lamb along to give the walkers a cute attraction.
“But this is a serious issue and our community support officers will be on hand to offer education to dog walkers as they pass.
“Put simply: This is one issue that can often be avoided if people take the correct approach around livestock.
“The event is being held at one of the most beautiful places in Cumbria on a Sunday in spring, so we hope it will prove beneficial.”
The Livestock Awareness day is being held from 9am until 5pm on the path between The Fish Inn and Buttermere.
Insp Smillie added: “Sheep worrying is a criminal offence.
“As well as the injury and suffering inflicted upon the animals, it can cause huge financial cost to the farmer and ultimately lead to prosecution of the owner or person in control of the dog at the time.
“We would urge people to take steps to keep their dogs under control near livestock, using a lead in areas near livestock and keeping a distance – and only letting dogs off their lead in areas without livestock.”
Vicki Temple sees the issue from two angles. She lives on a farm and is a vet at Millcroft Veterinary Group in Cockermouth.
She offered some advice to dog walkers and spelled out some of the effects of sheep worrying, which can be devastating for the animals and the farmers.
Vicki said: “Farmers don’t hate dogs or dog-walkers.
“As with so many situations, the actions of a few careless owners reflect badly on a population of people who do care about the countryside.
“Farmers really don’t want to shoot dogs.
“This is a last resort but can happen when owners lose control of their dogs and they can’t stop them attacking any other way.”
Vicki said the sheep and lambs that are killed are the farmers’ livelihood.
“They spend hours day and night checking on them, especially at lambing time, making sure they are fit, healthy and well-fed,” she added.
“To find a sheep or a lamb that you have spent this much time caring for killed or badly injured is distressing.
“It is a constant worry because you see people with dogs off lead all the time in among the sheep and you’re always expecting the worst.”
Vicki said any dog can attack a sheep – they don’t have to be big.
“Dogs don’t have to bite a sheep to cause harm,” she said.
“The stress of being chased frequently causes miscarriages in pregnant ewes
“Mothers often get confused after being stressed by dogs and so either won’t return to their lamb – so as not to give their location away to the predator – or don’t recognise their own lamb.
“Sheep frequently panic if there are dogs running in a field – even if they aren’t chasing them.
“This can lead to them running into fences, often breaking their neck or legs, or, quite commonly here, running into a lake and drowning because of the weight of their wet wool.”
Vicki gave a number of recommendations.
“It is natural instinct in every dog to chase, even if they are normally well-behaved,” she said.
“If you have a dog and plan to be going to be on the fells and around sheep regularly, speak to your vet, veterinary nurse or dog trainer about how to teach your dog to override this instinct.
“This is most easily done when puppies are still young – under three months of age – but older dogs can learn too.
“If you leave your dog unattended in a garden and you live in an area where there are sheep please ensure that your dog can’t escape.
“Keep dogs on a lead when you’re in a field with sheep at all times but this is especially important from January to June.
“If you are on the fells, keep your dogs under close control and where you can see them.
“Even though your dog might just look to you to be playing, this can be enough to frighten sheep and cause problems such as miscarriage and separation from their lambs, which can cause the lambs to become ill or starve to death.
“If you see a dog chasing sheep please tell someone as soon as possible.”
Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, said: “The message is simple – keep your dog on a lead, especially near livestock.
“Spring is a great time of year to venture out on walks with your dog but it is important that you respect the very livestock that you take so much enjoyment in seeing.
“It just takes a few seconds to put your dog on the lead, that way you reduce the risk of something going horribly wrong.
“This is a serious issue about animal welfare but it is important to remember it is also about the livelihood of our farmers and recognising our responsibilities when we enter farming land.
“I am looking forward to attending the event and supporting the police in getting over the message that sheep worrying will not be tolerated in this county.”
During the Livestock Awareness event any dog owners without a lead will be allocated one, supported by Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, to help raise awareness of the dangers that dogs off leads can cause to livestock.