ONE of Hampshire's biggest sheep farmers is urging walkers to keep dogs on leads after a series of horrific and costly attacks on livestock.

Gordon Wyeth of Maple Farm, Ropley, has 10,000 sheep across the region, and says attacks are on the rise, with a series of brutal incidents that have left dead or seriously maimed sheep.

In total dog attacks cost the industry more than £2m a year Mr Wyeth says thousands of sheep and cattle die as a result of injuries caused by dogs every year.

His warning comes at a time when ewes are in lamb and likely to abort if chased by dogs.

A sheep farmer who also provides shepherding services said:.

"They are definitely on the increase. On Boxing Day we had two killed over near Basingstoke and then we had a black and white dog attacking 40 sheep.

"It chewed the ears off one of them and then we had another one on Friday.

"The worst attack was at Four Marks - a ewe which was in lamb with twins had her throat ripped out. The suffering of this sheep was terrible - she was still breathing when she was found, but we had to have her humanely destroyed and the twin lambs died too.

"It is getting ridiculous. It's not only the cost of the sheep that they kill but they are losing having lambs as well and that's the damage that you don't see.

"We can lose hundreds of lambs. The ewes slip the lambs and they end up having just singles or no lambs at all.

"You could easily lose £60 of lambs in each sheep."

The National Farmers' Union is printing special signs to warn the public to keep dogs on a tight rein.

A spokesman said: "Owners forget that the friendly family pet can turn wolf.

"But they should remember that the law allows farmers to shoot dogs that are threatening livestock."