DOG walkers are being urged to keep their pets under control on the Quantock Hills as livestock are at their most vulnerable at this time of year.

Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) manager Iain Porter said: “For many of us, our dogs are part of the family and since the pandemic dog ownership in England has increased by nearly 40 per cent.

"With more people and more dogs accessing the countryside there is the potential for more incidents of dog worrying.

"We want people and their dogs to visit the Quantock Hills and to do so in a responsible way, by following the Countryside Code and being aware of where their dog is at all times and having them under close control.”

From March to to July 31, dog owners are required by law to keep their dogs on a lead when being walked across open access land including the open Quantock hilltops and combes.

In all other areas of the countryside dogs should be kept under close control.

Andy Stevenson, Quantock Hills AONB ranger, said: “We’d like to take this opportunity to remind all dog owners to please keep their dogs on leads when walking close to lambs or sheep.

"Even if lambs are not present in a flock, the ewes may well be pregnant and a dog causing them to run or chasing them could cause them to abort”.

There have been many times when Quantock farmers have had to deal with the aftermath of dog attacks on sheep.

Quantock farmer and chairman of the Quantock Commoners Association Anthony Salvidge said: “Livestock worrying can be devastating causing distress to animals and to farmers.

"For me it is the worst part of farming the hills, getting that call and going to pick up a sheep which has been ripped to pieces.

"After the distress and suffering there are also the financial implications of having your animals treated or in the worse cases the loss of that animal.”

Between March and July 31, keeping your dog on a lead on open access land is also to protect ground nesting birds, as dogs run about in the undergrowth they flush birds such as nightjars and skylarks off their nests and may cause them to abandon them.

If your dog does kill or cause harm to livestock, you can be liable for a significant fine and for the value of the livestock harmed - your pet may also be dispatched, the cost of which will also be borne by you. Moreover, if your dog is seen worrying livestock farmers can shoot them.

If you witness an attack in progress, call 999, otherwise any incidents should be reported to the police on 101.

Get more great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day by signing up to one of our newsletters. Don’t miss out!