Farmers are urging dog owners to keep their pets under control after a spate of savage attacks on sheep in the South Hams.

Andrew Hendy, from Diptford, said two of his sheep were killed when his flock was attacked by a pet dog.

The 60-year-old, who has been farming sheep for 26 years, believes the problem of livestock worrying has been rapidly “getting worse”.

“My livelihood is at stake, but more importantly it’s terrible for the sheep,” Andrew said. “They are traumatised.”

Research shows that livestock attacks cost an estimated £1.21m in 2018. Andrew said 12 of his animals were hurt in the attack and five were seriously injured, while one was almost swept away after being chased into a river.

He says he has spoken to a number of other farmers in the South Hams whose animals have been injured or killed in the past few weeks.

“I’ve spoken to so many of my neighbours who have had similar experiences recently,” he said. “I fear it’s getting out of hand.”

Julie Dennis, from Longcombe, said six of her sheep were killed by two dogs in an attack at her farm.

She said the livestock “suffered in a most horrific way” as a result of the “very upsetting massacre”.

While more than a dozen were seriously injured in a “distressing” attack that left four animals dead in South Brent in October.

Police said the sheep, two of which were lambs, had to be put down after they were discovered “with much of their insides ripped out”.

It is believed that two dogs were responsible for the attack.

Officers said the incident was “deeply distressing for the farmer”.

A survey carried out on behalf of NFU Mutual revealed that more than 87 per cent of dog owners exercise their pets in the countryside, with more than 60 per cent letting them roam off the lead.

NFU Mutual said: “We are sadly all too aware of the heartbreak and distress that dog attacks on livestock causes.

“That’s why we are urging dog owners to keep their pets on a lead at all times in the countryside and for people to report out-of-control dogs to a local farmer or the police.

“Known as livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals can result in horrific and often fatal injuries.

“Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress of a chase can cause sheep to miscarry their lambs and sometimes die from exhaustion.

“We believe that a significant proportion of attacks are now caused by owners who let their dogs roam from homes in the country and either aren’t aware that they are attacking farm animals – or don’t care.”

It is a criminal offence under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 if a person’s dog worries livestock while on agricultural land.

The police have powers to detain a dog suspected of worrying livestock if there is no owner present and can also obtain a warrant to enter premises in order to identify a dog. A dog owner can be fined a maximum of £1,000 for allowing their dog to worry livestock and a court could order the dog be destroyed.

Farmers whose livestock is killed or injured as a result of dog worrying can also sue the owner for compensation under the Animal Act 1971.

Section 9 of the Animals Act 1971 says that the landowner, livestock owner or anyone on their behalf, is entitled to shoot any dog if they believe it is the only reasonable way of stopping it worrying livestock.

However, the action must be reported to the police within 48 hours.

Advice for dog owners:

• Always keep dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept

• Be aware that even small dogs can attack and kill farm animals

• Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to local farmers or the police

• Familiarise puppies with farm livestock from a young age to reduce the risk of them attacking sheep or cattle as adult dogs

• Don’t let dogs loose in gardens next to fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep nearby.