EAST Hampshire farmers are urging dog walkers to use a lead near livestock when out in the countryside over the Easter bank holiday and school half-term.

The break traditionally sees families and dog walkers enjoying beauty spots such as Butser Hill, Harting Down and the South Downs, where sheep often graze.

Already this year sheep have been attacked by dogs near Buriton and Alice Holt, and now the pastures are full of ewes with lambs and ewes about to give birth.

A spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union based in Petersfield said: “Over the Easter break, we are reminding people to keep dogs on a lead, rather than letting them run freely because livestock may be nearby.

“Dogs have a chase instinct and they can inflict the most terrible bites on sheep which can die slowly and painfully of their injuries. Pregnant ewes can also abort their lambs if chased by dogs.

“Dog attacks on livestock can end in tragedy both for the farmer and for the dog owner whose pet can legally be shot by a farmer if it’s chasing sheep or cattle.”

Earlier this month, farmers took to the South Downs to raise awareness of the need to keep dogs on a lead near livestock, supported by the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) with its #takethelead campaign.

An SDNPA spokesman said: “Responsible dog walkers are very welcome in the national park. But taking responsibility for your dog is especially important in spring when young livestock are particularly vulnerable.”

For more information about the ‘take the lead’ campaign, visit the SDNPA website at: www.southdowns.gov.uk/enjoy/take-the-lead