Dog owners who live or visit the Forest of Dean are being urged to keep their pets on leads to stem the number of attacks on free-roaming sheep.
Sheep have run freely through public land in the Forest for 800 years.
But members of the sheep liaison group are now worried after a spate of dog attacks, which they believe has been caused by poor training and a rise in dog ownership during lockdown.
The liaison group is made up of representatives from the Commoners’ Association, Forestry England, the Forest District Council, Gloucestershire County Council and the police.
Around 20 sheep have been killed in recent months due to dog attacks and road accidents, according to the Commoners.
Liaison group chairman Clare Greaves wants to educate the public about the dangers untrained dogs pose to livestock and other animals.
“People need to understand that if they want the privilege to let their dog off the lead, they need to have a well-trained dog and they need to understand the risks and responsibility,” she said.
“There are times of the year when it’s irresponsible for a dog owner to let their pet off a lead.
“A responsible dog owner who follows the rules reduces the likelihood of a problem happening.
“We want to educate people about what their duties and responsibilities are in terms of dog ownership.
“It’s a catastrophe if your dog is not insured, trained and does not have a microchip and something happens.
“Before anyone lets their dog go off the lead in the Forest, they need to remember that sheep are sweet and gentle animals that are very vulnerable in late pregnancy and at lambing time.
“Even if the dog doesn’t draw blood, the chasing of the sheep is enough to cause abortion.
“The consequences are horrific.
“We want to remind people who have bought a puppy during the pandemic who have not had the opportunity to go to puppy training classes that there is training available.”
Clare said those who are unsure where to get their dog trained should approach the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
“That will enable them to fulfil their duty to ensure their dog has appropriate training.
“Now, appropriate training if you live in the West End of London is very different to the appropriate training if you are taking your dog into the Forest of Dean."
Forestry England 'should do more'
Forest of Dean bylaws also say no person should allow a dog to disturb, worry or chase any animal.
Commoners’ Association general secretary Mick Holder said he would like Forestry England do more to enforce these bylaws.
“That would take care of a bucket full of our problems and it would also minimise suffering,” he said.
And Conservative councillor Terry Hale, who is also a member of the liaison group, believes all dog walkers should keep their pets on a lead while in the Forest.
“It’s got to come. I’d like to see that people have to have a licence and insurance for their dogs.”
Anyone who sees a sheep being attacked or dead in the Forest of Dean should call Mr Holder on 01594 827485.
Forestry England has been approached for a comment.
Credit: Carmelo Garcia, Local Democracy Reporting Service