South Somerset District Council and the National Trust are sending out a joint message to dog walkers at Ham Hill and Montacute House: “Please keep your dogs on leads whilst walking land where sheep are present”.
Despite putting up signs before entering fields with sheep in at both sites, some dog walkers are still ignoring them and letting their dogs loose which can result in sheep worrying during a crucial time in the development of young lambs and ewes. Three dead lambs were found in the parklands of Montacute House on Friday (17 April), all a result of dog attacks.
Grazing livestock are an integral part of the Somerset countryside and dog owners should always expect to encounter cattle or sheep in fields. It is vital that all dogs are kept on a lead when you come across livestock in fields with young, particularly ewes and lambs. So many times we hear from dog owners that their dog won’t chase sheep; this just isn’t true, their instinct is to hunt, and unfortunately this lack of understanding has led to the mauling and death of many ewes and lambs over the years.
From mid-April, the farm tenant who farms land on both the 300 acre Montacute House National Trust site and South Somerset District Council’s 390 acre Ham Hill site will start to return ewes with lambs back to the parkland and field areas where they have an abundance of fresh grass to graze on. During this time, dog walkers are asked to help support both sites and keep their dogs on a lead at all times where sheep are present.
Katy Menday, Countryside Manager at South Somerset District Council said, “The Country Park at Ham Hill and the parklands of Montacute are lucky enough to share a tenant grazier who takes great care of their cows and sheep. Signs are always erected on the gateways advising the walking public when livestock are in place, so please make sure your dogs are on a lead. The District Council and farmer are prepared to take the strongest course of action if an out of control dog is caught worrying sheep. If you are witness to such an incident please do call the farmer or ranger teams; the mobile numbers are on the gateway posters.
“A dog attack is very traumatic for the whole flock. Sheep and their lambs have been known to die simply from shock, although usually the wounds inflicted by just one dog bite are sufficient to kill. If a ewe loses her lamb in an attack she is then likely to succumb to mastitis, which can also be fatal”.
George Holmes, South Somerset Area Ranger from the National Trust added, “Dogs off leads and resulting sheep worrying is becoming a real issue in Montacute House Parkland and the Old Park behind All Saints School. We are finding an increasing number of dog walkers are ignoring our ‘dogs on leads’ notices and requests from staff and volunteers. It’s very worrying, and unfortunately it’s likely that we will end up with our tenant’s lambs being attacked. We always believe our own dogs would never worry sheep, but it can and does happen.
“The National Trust encourages our visitors and local population to explore this beautiful setting, but would like to highlight that this working farmland and its occupants are given the respect it needs at this very important time”.
South Somerset District Council and the National Trust will now work together to produce some leaflets which will detail walks that dog walkers can take which will avoid land where the sheep are currently grazing. The trails will take you across both sites at Montacute House and Ham Hill.
Photo: Countryside Ranger Jon Marshman & George Holmes, South Somerset Area Ranger from the National Trust with sheep on site at Ham Hill.