By Debbie James

As lambing gets underway in Pembrokeshire, the true scale of dog attacks on sheep flocks has been revealed.

Livestock worth more than £1m were savaged by dogs in the UK last year, according to figures from NFU Mutual.

In Pembrokeshire alone there have been multiple reports of sheep worrying with two separate incidents involving losses in Saundersfoot, Canaston Woods and Llanychaer in the last month alone.

However, thanks to co-ordinated campaigns helping to change attitudes among dog owners, Wales as a whole has seen a 15 per cent reduction in attacks.

A survey of more than 1,300 dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual reveals that more owners now put their dog on a lead if they see a sign warning them livestock are nearby – 95 per cent compared with 90 per cent in 2018.

However, 63 per cent of dog owners say they let their pets roam free in the countryside, despite half admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

Police forces with bespoke rural crime teams take the issue of sheep worrying seriously, and that is the case in Pembrokeshire.

FUW Pembrokeshire county executive officer Rebecca Voyle says the union is encouraging farmers to report incidents directly to rural crime officers.

“Within Dyfed-Powys Police the database system has now changed so incidents of livestock worrying can be recorded as a crime,’’ she says.

Under the current system, if the owner of the dog can be identified a restorative justice order can be made instead of the case going to court, with the owner agreeing to compensate the farmer for short and long term costs of an attack.

Mrs Voyle says some dog owners seem genuinely unaware of what their dogs are capable of and therefore allow them to roam off the lead or leave them unattended and uncontained in gardens when they are away from home.

If a dog is caught in the act of chasing livestock and there is no other means of catching it to stop the attack, a farmer is entitled by law to shoot it.

If farmers do catch a dog, Mrs Voyle says running a hand along its mouth will establish if there is blood present, but farmers should only do this if it doesn’t present a risk to them.

“We have had cases where a police officer had gone out to deal with a sheep attack after the dog has been returned to its owner but without a record of any blood that may have been present there is no proof that the dog has done anything wrong so it is much harder to pursue the case,’’ she says.