DOGS must be kept on leads around livestock, police say, or owners could face prison or a £1,000 fine.

Wiltshire Police has been raising awareness about livestock worrying by urging owners to keep dogs on the lead.

Livestock worrying is traditionally thought of as a dog biting or attacking livestock but it also means not having a dog on a lead, or under close control, in a field with livestock or chasing livestock in such a way as may be reasonably expected to cause injury or suffering; in the case of ewes, this includes abortion or loss or reduction in the number of offspring she has.

Livestock worrying is a criminal offence and the penalty can be 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £1,000.

Wiltshire Police say any risk of livestock worrying can be avoided by simply putting dogs on a lead.

Andi Witcombe, the National Farmers Union (NFU) county adviser for Wiltshire said: “Livestock worrying is a significant and increasing issue for our farmers across Wiltshire.

“The National Farmers Union Mutual found that in 2016 they had 50 per cent more claims compared to the previous year. Particularly at this time of year from January to May time when sheep are in the field and lambing.

“British farmers rear their livestock to some of the highest welfare standards across the world. Having dogs chase or worry their animals seriously undermines that.

“There is a financial impact for businesses, a ewe might be worth £150 to £200 and a lamb potentially £80 to £100. If animals are killed there is a financial issue there, but also if they are stressed and worried it can affect their growth and fertility causing long term impacts as well.

“For the farmer it is particularly distressing and worrying, they spend every day of the year taking care of their animals and to see them worried or injured is incredibly distressing for them."

PC Marc Jackson, the operational rural crime lead for Wiltshire said: “If the public are out walking and they see livestock and they are not sure how their dog is going to react they could look for an alternative route round that area or place their dog on a lead.

“The public need to be aware that sometimes when entering a field you may be able to see a small part of it. So you need to be 100 per cent sure before you go in that there are no livestock out of site, maybe over the brow of a hill.

“We want people to go out there and enjoy the countryside. If people are out using the public rights of way with a dog, use a bit of common sense. Use a lead if there is livestock around and don’t deviate from the footpaths as potentially they could be trespassing.”

If you see anything suspicious call 101 or 999 if you can see a crime is in progress.