FARM animals worth more than £400,000 have been savaged by dogs in the south east over the past four years, according to new figures.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual is urging dog owners to keep their pets under control as horrific attacks on sheep and other livestock continue to take their toll on farmers across the region.

Recent research shows that more dog owners are putting their pets on leads when livestock is nearby.

But NFU Mutual says it has seen a rise in the number of incidents involving dogs which escape from gardens - often when their owners are out. Most of the victims are sheep but other animals are also at risk.

In 2016, when three alpacas at Petlake Farm at Bartley in the New Forest were attacked by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. One of the animals died and the cost of treating the other two totalled £14,000.

NFU Mutual says dog attacks on farm animals can result in horrific and often fatal injuries.

With many families expected to visit the countryside in the spring the insurer is urging dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times. It also wants people to report out-of-control pets to the police.

Rebecca Davidson, rural insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Dog attacks are still at a very high level. We’re receiving increasing reports of dogs escaping from homes and attacking sheep, either because their owners don’t know or don’t care that their dogs are roaming wild and causing havoc.

“We will be redoubling our efforts to raise awareness of the issue and helping police bring owners of dogs which attack livestock to justice.”

“Livestock worrying has a huge impact on farmers’ livelihoods. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there’s a knock-on effect on breeding programmes which can take years to overcome.”

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has also highlighted the issue. Rural adviser Megan Lock said: “We would advise owners to keep their dogs on a lead, or under close control, when walking through fields of livestock and to always stick to public rights of way.

“Ensure you know where your dog is at all times, that your property is secure and that your dog can’t escape at any time. It is important that every instance of livestock worrying is reported to the police. This will allow for a more accurate picture of the scale of the problem to be built up and assist the police and government to determine what resources are required to effectively tackle the problem.”