IN THE wake of another dog attack on livestock, a National Trust ranger is making a heartfelt plea to dog owners to keep their pets on leads around grazing animals.

Ranger Catherine Hadler has warned of the consequences of not having dogs under control.

She has cared for her flock of 34 Wiltshire Horn sheep for six years on Stockbridge Down, where they perform a vital role in preserving the grassland habitat.

The flock also plays a big part in the lives of Cat’s group of community ‘sheep lookers’, who give up their time to check daily on the animals’ welfare.

Earlier this year, the alarm was raised by a neighbouring farmer, who spotted a dog savaging one of the sheep. He chased the dog off, but the distressed sheep later had to be put down.

Attacking livestock is a criminal offence so the police were contacted and the dog’s owner, who was present at the time, was given a fine, and will be required to sign a dog behavioural contract, agreeing to the dog being muzzled at all times outside of the owner’s home.

Unfortunately, Catherine has said this is not an isolated incident; there have been five similar attacks in the New Forest this year alone, and in each case the injuries and trauma sustained by the grazing animals could have been avoided if the dogs had been on leads.

“Hearing the words ‘there’s a dog ripping out the throat of one of your sheep’ is a chilling phone call to receive,” said Catherine.

“This attack could so easily have been prevented, on Stockbridge Down there are clear, mapped signs on every gate, showing walkers exactly where the animals are grazing and advising them to have their dogs on leads - we do as much as we can to inform and assist dog owners.

“The majority are on board, but it’s time for the irresponsible minority to do the right thing to avoid more of these heart-breaking situations. Animal worrying can have horrendous consequences, for dog owners as well as livestock.

“We want to remind dog owners of the importance of keeping their dogs under control.

“It’s a criminal offence for dogs to worry livestock - this includes things like chasing, and barking at animals’ heels - so it makes sense to use a lead where there are grazing animals, if you can’t rely on your dog’s obedience.

“Many dog owners may also not be aware that on open access land like Stockbridge Down there is a general rule that dogs must be kept on a short lead around livestock and during ground-nesting bird season, which runs from March 1 to July 31.”

“We have wonderful privileges in this country, giving us free access to thousands of acres of beautiful countryside, much of which the National Trust looks after, and we must remember the responsibilities and laws that come with this. We all need to work together to look after our beautiful ground nesting birds and our conservation grazing animals, so that we can continue to enjoy these landscapes together.”

On Stockbridge Marsh — another National Trust site — Natural England has reported there are no longer any ground-nesting birds, because of dog disturbance.

“Dog walkers are important guardians of the countryside, often combining their love of dogs with their love of the outdoors,” said local National Trust General Manager Louise Govier.

“We welcome responsible dog walkers at our places - it’s a pleasure to see them enjoying the landscapes we care for, whether it’s an historic garden or a beautiful stretch of countryside like Stockbridge Down or the New Forest. But for this relationship to thrive, we need dog walkers to care about the animals that share these places with us as much as they care about their pets.

“There’s nothing worse than seeing your dog chase after livestock and being powerless to stop them - it’s a dog’s natural reaction. But if they’re on a lead this won’t happen. In situations around cattle where you think you may be chased however, then you should let go of the lead.”