ROPLEY sheep farmer Gordon Wyeth is urging witnesses to a dog attack on sheep at Dockenfield, near Alice Holt Forest, to come forward and report any information to the police.

According to Mr Wyeth, the ewe (female), within a flock of 300 on land between Pit Hall Farm and Dockenfield Farm, was badly injured following an attack by a dog last Friday and had to be put down.

Found by shepherd Liz Rough, while still breathing, the terrified animal had part of its back leg torn off and the back its neck ripped open, and was so severely mutilated it had to be destroyed.

The rest of the flock, all of them in lamb, were bunched up and traumatised by the attack which, due to the type of injuries inflicted on the ewe, was thought to have been inflicted by a large dog.

The incident has been reported to the police and anyone with information is asked to call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Mr Wyeth said: “We are hoping a resident or passer-by might have seen something.”

This is the fourth dog attack on his sheep in the past three months and it is a bad start to the new year for the family man. He has been in the sheep-farming business for around 30 years and is responsible for running around 7,000 head of sheep across Hampshire and neighbouring West Sussex.

Last year he lost 160 ewes to dog attacks at a cost of around £20,000, brought about by animal loss, aborted lambs and vet bills, and with six families dependent on his for their livelihood, it is becoming a really serious problem.

The field in Dockenfield on which his sheep are grazing lies adjacent to a development site and he has already spoken to the security guards to see if they saw anything as they patrolled at night with their dogs.

As a working farmer, Mr Wyeth carries a gun and, he says, will use it to shoot a dog if he sees it worrying his sheep. It would not, he stresses, be an action he would want to take because it would not be the dog’s fault. He blames the owners and stresses the plea he has made so many times over the years, for dog owners to keep their dogs on leads when walking near livestock.

But while some of his sheep are close to home at Ropley, Alton and Kingsley, others are miles away and, while checked regularly by him and his staff, the chances of actually being there during an attack are remote, so he, like others, have to rely on the public who walk across or close to his land to adhere to the country code.

And 95 per cent of them do, according to Mr Wyeth, but it is the irresponsible few who can cause such cruel devastation.

It is a plea echoed by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) who point out that thousands of sheep and cattle die as a result of injuries caused by dogs every year. Figures show that livestock worrying costs the industry an estimated £1.4m per year, but this figure is just the “tip of the iceberg” as many losses are uninsured and often unaccounted for.

NFU South East spokesman Isobel Bretherton said: “Please keep your dog on a lead in the countryside and prevent a tragedy rather than letting it run freely, as farm animals may be nearby. All dogs have a chase instinct and no matter how well behaved your dog, there is a risk that your pet may chase and attack livestock.

“We’re determined to help reduce this animal welfare problem through greater education and by pushing for tougher penalties for offenders, working with police and other partners. Dogs caught chasing or attacking livestock may be shot by farmers and owners may face prosecution.”

The NFU’s warning comes as the lambing season is beginning, with ewes just weeks or days away from giving birth.

Ms Bretherton said: “Dogs 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.”

And she added: “Dog attacks on livestock should be avoided at all costs. They can end in tragedy both for the farmer and for the dog owner whose pet may be shot.”