THE National Trust in Cumbria is asking dog owners to keep their four-legged friends on a lead near livestock and ground-nesting birds in the coming months on behalf of its tenant farmers and graziers.

With lambing season under way across Cumbria, and about to start for hardy native fell breeds like Herdwicks and Swaledales, National Trust rangers hope a combination of reminders will get the message home.

“Sheep worrying can and does have horrendous consequences, both for the farmer and for dog owners” said Jess Darwin, the conservation charity’s ranger for Grasmere.

“Ground nesting birds and their chicks can also be affected by dogs disturbing their nests which are hard to spot in long grass.

“Given the extent of the problem and its devastating consequences, we hope a combination of measures, and lots of prompts, will ensure dog owners do the right thing. From hard-hitting signs on farm gates to information and reminders on websites, social media and in person.

“Last month we published a canine code with ideas for dog-friendly walks on the National Trust website,

"And we also want to encourage walkers to prompt dog owners to put their dogs on a lead, particularly if they have seen sheep nearby.

“There’s nothing worse than seeing your dog chase after sheep, cattle or wildlife, and being powerless to stop them. Those of us who love walking our dog in this beautiful place also want to help protect it, and by sharing what’s around the corner we can all do our bit,” added Jess.

The National Trust say it is not just out on your walk that you might need to keep an eye on your dog.

“Lots of livestock attacks and worrying actually take place when the owner isn’t there,” said Rachel Forsyth, whose job it is to advise on dogs on National Trust sites.

“Be extra careful getting in and out of cars, when opening the front door, in new places; and check your garden is secure. Often new places and smells can be really distracting for a dog, so we recommend using a lead to avoid those ‘snuck under a gate’ or ‘suddenly encountered a sheep’ moments,” added Rachel.

As the countryside comes alive with lots to see and do the conservation charity wants as many people as possible to enjoy it. Ideas for dog friendly walks can be found on the trust website, here, or by using the search facility.

By law, dogs must be controlled so that they do not scare or disturb livestock or wildlife. On open access land they must be kept on short leads from March 1 to July 31 – and all year round near sheep. Close supervision is also required on public rights of way.

*The Northern Farmer's Lead The Way campaign aims to raise awareness of the problem of digs worrying lives tock and calls for the law in tis area to be tightened up.