A three month Police Scotland campaign has been launched to raise awareness amongst dog owners about the devastating effects of livestock worrying.
The campaign will see Scottish Natural Heritage working with the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, a multi-agency partnership which includes Police Scotland, National Farmers Union of Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates, to encourage dog walkers to use the countryside responsibly.
The initiative seeks to highlight the impact of livestock worrying, ensuring that dog owners who live in or walk their dogs in the countryside act responsibly and keep their dogs under close control.
The worrying of livestock can have devastating consequences for farm animals and for farmers and their businesses and this campaign is being launched to coincide with the spring lambing period because this is when sheep are at greatest risk.
A dog attacking, chasing or even being at large in a field where sheep are kept can lead to significant injury and often leads to the sheep being killed or destroyed. Such attacks have a financial and emotional impact on the farmer and are avoidable if dog owners follow some simple steps.
Inspector Jane Donaldson, Police Scotland rural crime co-ordinator, said: “The worrying of sheep and other livestock by domestic dogs not only has an obvious financial and emotional impact on farmers when their animals are killed or injured, but also has an effect on the animals themselves, their productivity and welfare.
“Livestock worrying can occur when a dog attacks, chases or in the case of sheep, is at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field where livestock is kept. The devastating effects of a dog attack are evident and cannot be overstated but significant damage can also be caused by a dog simply being present in a field. Pregnant ewes can abort their lambs or lambs can be separated from their mothers, causing distress and in some cases malnutrition.
“The advice to anyone walking and exercising their dogs in the countryside is to ensure that they are under control at all times and avoid going into fields where livestock is grazing.”
She added: “The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says that dogs shouldn’t be taken into fields where there are lambs or other young farm animals.
“We are encouraging farmers and landowners to engage with dog walkers and to put signs up on gateways and on key roads and paths alerting them to the presence of sheep and lambs in their fields.
Farmers and those who use the countryside are urged to report all incidents of livestock worrying to police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
Preventative measures can be also be taken using Dog Control Notices issued by the local authority. These written Notices can be served on owners who do not keep their dogs under proper control and place control measures such as keeping the dog on a lead or being muzzled in a public place.
Police Scotland will also enforce the existing legislation robustly, ensuring all reported cases of sheep worrying are thoroughly investigated and offenders reported to the Procurator Fiscal.
Allan Bowie, NFU Scotland’s President, said: “NFU Scotland is extremely concerned by the growing issue of livestock worrying across many areas of Scotland.
“Figures recently obtained by the Union confirm that the numbers of instances are on the increase, and this is very worrying. There have been a number of instances recently where the losses suffered by farmers have been substantial, both in terms of emotional impact and financial costs.
“At this time of year when lambing and spring calving is underway, instances are particularly keenly felt. The public has a right of responsible access, and in being responsible should ensure that they are familiar with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, this sets out what is expected of them.”
Anne Gray, Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We would encourage all dog walkers to keep their dogs under control and we would encourage farmers to engage with dog walkers and the public to help them exercise their access rights in a responsible way”.