Walkers and families turning to the countryside to exercise during the coronavirus lockdown are sparking concern they could be putting older farmers at risk of catching the disease.
Rural insurer NFU Mutual has highlighted concerns for farmers and their health because of the sharp rise in people using farmland footpaths for exercise.
Farmers are also concerned the increase in footfall is putting their livestock at risk, particularly from dog attacks during lambing season.
The insurer has put together some advice for walkers on how to protect rural workers from the coronavirus, and how to prevent dog attacks on animals grazing on farmland near public rights of way.
Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual rural affairs apecialist, said: “Some farming areas are experiencing increased numbers of walkers with dogs, with farmers having to spend additional time patrolling flocks to try and prevent attacks which is hindering them from getting on with the vital task of producing food for the nation.
“There are real concerns that high numbers of people using farmland footpaths for exercise are putting older farmers in particular at risk.
“Together with the farmers’ unions, we are urging people to maintain social distancing of two metres apart and not put others, including farmers, their families and other rural dwellers at risk.”
She added: “Livestock worrying causes appalling suffering to sheep and lambs – and during the coronavirus crisis the threat of attacks is adding to farmers’ anxiety when they are already under immense pressure.
“Even if a dog doesn’t make contact, the distress and exhaustion of the chase can cause a sheep to die. Many walkers are also failing to clear up after their dog, which can spread disease to livestock.
“Horrific attacks have left a trail of dead and seriously-injured sheep and new-born lambs so we are urging dog walkers to keep their pets on the lead at all time when exercising them in countryside where livestock are reared.
“Walking dogs on a lead also ensures people can safely keep two metres away from others.”
NFU Mutual coronavirus guide for exercise on farmland footpaths:
• Maintain social distancing of at least two metres when out in the countryside and consider others, including farmers and their families.
• Avoid footpaths which go through farmyards or close to farmhouses.
• Keep to footpaths, close gates and don’t block gateways.
• Always keep dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept. Walking your dog on a lead also ensures you can safely keep two metres away from others.
• Always clear up after your dog – their mess can spread disease to livestock.
• Be aware that even small lap dogs can attack and kill farm animals.
• Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to local farmers or the police.
• Don’t let dogs loose in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby.