WITH the traditional lambing season approaching, the National Sheep Association and the RSPCA have teamed up to urge dog owners to take extra care.

Both groups say many sheep are killed or maimed by dogs each year, with many others miscarrying after being chased.

The problem is a "serious animal welfare concern" which has a knock-on affect on the emotional stress and financial cost to sheep farmers, they say.

"A growing number of our members continue to tell us of some horrendous attacks they have suffered to their livestock. It is not only the harrowing injuries which out of control dogs have inflicted, but also the losses they have suffered as a result of dogs simply chasing livestock," said Phil Stocker, the NSA's chief executive.

"The risk of heavily pregnant ewes aborting is extremely high after suffering the stress of been chased by dogs, not to mention the risk of young lambs becoming separated from their mother at a critical early bonding stage. Lambs will die from starvation or hypothermia when they become separated from their mother and fail to find her again."

The NSA has been collecting evidence of sheep worrying for several years.

Kate Robinson, who lives in Mitcheldean on Herefordshire's border with the Forest of Dean, says her sheep were attacked by a black Labrador which was unattended.

"The result totalled eight injured and two dead that afternoon, four had to be put to sleep the following morning and are two of the badly wounded ones that we hope will survive," she said.

"Every lamb was attacked in the neck area. The attack was witnessed and the dog identified, the owner denies it was their dog. It has been reported to the police. Any responsible dog owner should never leave their dog unattended."

She said a few days later her sheep were attacked again, with the owner phoning her immediately to apologise.

"She did request if she were to send the dog away, would we allow it to live, which we agreed to which she then followed up on her promise," she said.

"So it was a good outcome for a horrible situation in which both parties were satisfied with the outcome.

"On a less positive note we have had two separate dog attacks in the last three days. A dog chased some ewes into a lake and drowned four as they couldn't get out. Although no bite marks were on the ewes, witnesses saw it happen and called the police so the dog and owner were caught. It's pending whether the owner will actually pay any compensation.

"The second attack was in a completely separate location. A dog got in with 40 ewes and a ram. Two were seriously hurt, with the one having to be put down due to the underneath of both front legs being torn out and a lot of bites to her rear legs. The other suffered one tear under her front leg, the vet has sewn her up hoping she will live. Another ewe suffered cuts to her face, and the ram a small cut under his eye."

The RSPCA says dog owners should keep their pets on a lead while around livestock.

Tony Woodley, RSPCA Inspector, said: "No dog owner sets out on a walk to hurt sheep but sadly that is what can happen if the dog is allowed to run loose around livestock.

"Many dogs, if given the opportunity, will chase or show interest in livestock so even if your pet is normally calm, gentle, obedient and docile, don’t be complacent. They can be still be a danger.

"The aftermath of these attacks can be absolutely horrific - sheep with their ears ripped off, their legs bitten down to the bone and their throats torn open. Dog owners should also remember that they could be prosecuted and their dog could be shot dead if they are caught worrying sheep."