As the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions continue to ease, there has been an increase in the number of people venturing out into the countryside for some social-distancing exercise.
Although good for the health, this is an the opportunity to encourage visitors to follow the Countryside Code for their own safety, and that of the wildlife and livestock they encounter.
There is a more sinister side to not following the rules, and visitors should keep to public footpaths and not walk over fields, always leave gates as they find them or let their dogs foul in the fields or leave poo bags on the ground or tied to fences.
Dog owners are legally responsible for keeping their pets under control at all times, and should keep them on a lead when walking near livestock to prevent animals being injured or killed.
Livestock worrying is the term used to describe a dog being loose around farm animals chasing them in a way which could cause injury or suffering, or attacking them.
It is a criminal offence, which carries a fine of up to £1,000, and under the law, a farmer has the right to shoot and kill a dog which is worrying livestock and cannot be controlled.
Northamptonshire Police Wildlife and Rural Crime Officer, PC Abbey Anstead, said: “Whether farmer or pet owner, the death of an animal is devastating, but all of this is completely avoidable if people walking dogs keep them on a lead and under control around farm animals.
“This simple measure is part of responsible dog ownership, helps to protect pets and livestock alike, and means everyone can enjoy our beautiful countryside both safely and responsibly.”
NFU county adviser for Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland, Harriet Ranson, added: “We want people to enjoy the countryside and realise how vital it is for everyone to have that time outside in the fresh air.
“However there is an onus on everyone who lives in and visits rural areas to respect the countryside and its communities and understand these are working farms.
“Sadly during lockdown we have seen an increase in dogs chasing and worrying livestock causing fatal injuries, dog muck not being bagged and binned, gates left open and trespass across conservation land, threatening the wildlife nesting there.
“Please follow the Countryside Code to help everyone enjoy our great outdoors. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.”
Tips for safe and responsible dog walking around livestock:
• Keep dogs on a lead and under control when walking through fields of livestock
• Always stick to public rights of way and leave all gates as you found them
• If you live beside land where livestock is grazed ensure you know where your dog is at all times, and keep your property secure so your dog cannot escape
• Cows can be curious and may follow walkers. If this happens, keep facing the animal and move calmly and slowly, don’t turn your back to it or run
• Steer well clear of young animals and do not try to pet them. Cows and calves will be protective and may become aggressive
• If you feel threatened by cattle when with a dog, let go of the lead so you and the dog can get to safety separately
• Dog owners MUST bag and bin their dog’s poo – it carries a parasite called Neospora which causes abortions in animals and the bags left on the ground can be ingested and cause slow painful deaths, or bailed into silage and eaten that way.
Incidents of livestock worrying should be reported online to the police or by calling the non-emergency 101 number. If the dog is in the process of worrying livestock and cannot be stopped, please call 999.
Anyone who shoots a dog to prevent livestock worrying must notify the police within 48 hours.

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