DOG owners could face a fine of up to £1,000 and a jail term of six months if their dog is caught off the lead around farms and fields worrying livestock.

Wiltshire Police and the National Farmers Union are encouraging owners to be responsible when they are out enjoying the countryside by keeping their dogs, no matter their behaviour, on a lead around livestock such as sheep and cows before a dog's natural instinct to chase kicks in.

Andi Witcombe, the 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."

Livestock worrying, which is a criminal offence, is traditionally thought of as biting or attacking livestock but it also includes chasing livestock in a way that could cause injury or suffering and not having a dog on a lead or under close control around livestock.

Rural Crime leader PC Marc Jackson 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.”