VISITORS to the countryside have been urged to keep their dogs under control as people head out to get some fresh air during the coronavirus outbreak.

The warning comes from NFU Mutual at a time when lambs are being born.

Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, Rebecca Davidson, said: “The spring sunshine and social distancing is bringing people out to the countryside at a time when sheep and their new-born lambs are particularly vulnerable to attack.

“There are real concerns that people are congregating in the countryside and putting others at risk by crowding in rural areas. We are urging people to maintain social distancing of two metres apart and not put others, including farmers and other walkers, at risk."

She added: “In farming areas experiencing very high influxes of walkers with dogs, farmers are having to spend additional time patrolling flocks to try and prevent attacks by dogs which is hindering them from getting on with the vital task of producing food for the nation.

“UK farmers are working under immense pressure at the moment to feed the nation through the coronavirus outbreak and we are urging people to keep their dogs under control, to clear up their mess and to be responsible in the countryside.”

Last year, dogs savaged livestock worth £1.2 million, causing suffering to animals and distress to farmers as they dealt with the aftermath.

A survey of more than 1,300 dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual earlier this year found that 63% of dog owners let their pets roam free in the countryside, despite half admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.