‘Control your dog on farmland’, urges new NFU Scotland campaign

Warning – contains graphic image of sheep worrying victims that may be distressing to some readers

NFU Scotland has launched a new campaign to tackle the blight of irresponsible behaviour by dog walkers in the Scottish countryside.

The “Control Your Dog on Farmland” campaign was launched at the union’s annual conference on Thursday (7 February) in Glasgow.

The 12-month initiative will focus on livestock worrying as well as on the increasing problem of dog fouling, which can cause livestock to contract dangerous diseases.

See also: The law on shooting dogs – critical facts farmers must know

In early December, NFUS surveyed farmers, crofters and landowners about the issues they have with irresponsible access, either through livestock worrying by dogs, or the impact of owners failing to pick up after their pets on or near farmland.

The survey collected more than 340 responses and found that:

  • 72% had an issue with livestock worrying on their land.
  • 100% said they have an issue with dog fouling on their land, including included plastic bag pollution and instances where livestock have contracted diseases from eating dog poo and plastic bags.
  • 84% felt the outdoor access code requiring “on a lead or under close control” didn’t provide sufficient protection to them or their livestock.

Police figures

Police Scotland recorded 338 incidents of livestock worrying reported to them last year, with 131 incidents resulting in police investigations.

This includes sheep, cattle, horses, and other less-known species such as llamas and alpacas. However, this issue is still hugely under-reported, which the campaign will seek to tackle.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “We need dog owners to take responsibility for controlling their dogs while out enjoying the countryside.

“You think your dog is ‘just playing’ with the sheep but that could change in an instant and you will have no way to stop the dog when it starts to attack.

“Make sure your dog is on a lead when walking on farmland – even if you can’t see livestock they could just be over the hill or hidden in a dip. It’s not worth the risk, to you, your dog or the livestock.”

Over the past 12 months NFUS has stepped up its action to tackle livestock worrying, tying in with partner agencies and giving its backing to a members’ bill by SNP MSP Emma Harper to change the access legislation, seeking tougher penalties for those convicted of allowing their dog to chase or attack livestock.

At Holyrood, Scottish Conservative MSP Peter Chapman has also campaigned for a speedy parliamentary solution.

In December, his research found that the largest fine handed out for the offence was £500. He said: “I find it shocking that irresponsible dog owners get charged less for this offence than for vandalising a car.

The SNP government must act to protect animals and the industry. We are talking about people’s livelihoods.”

In 2007/8, there were 81 offences recorded under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. This skyrocketed to 170 in 2017/18, according to official statistics disclosed to the North East region MSP.

Case study: Argyll hill farmer Brian Walker

Argyll hill farmer Brian Walker has lost more than 32 sheep through attacks in 2010 and 2018 from loose dogs, as well as having many more seriously injured.

The attacks have had a knock-on effect to his business as the flock were breeding sheep with many aborting lambs or unable to carry lambs following the attacks.

Last year, a man received just 80 hours community service for allowing his four out-of-control dogs to seriously injure and kill 17 sheep on Mr Walker’s farm, totalling damages of £4,100.

Mr Walker, who runs 1,000 breeding ewes at Carloon Farm, Inveraray, said stiffer penalties are needed to act as a deterrent against dog attacks on sheep and other livestock.

“As a farmer, if I caused the amount of suffering to these animals myself, I would have been heavily fined and jailed,” he told Farmers Weekly.

“Dogs that commit these attacks should be taken away from their owners – and they should be banned from keeping dogs in future.”

Mr Walker also wants councils to use their powers to issue more dog control notices to irresponsible owners who let their dogs roam loose near livestock.

“If you allow your dogs to run loose in the countryside where it can potentially cause damage to farm livestock, an on-the-spot penalty would probably prevent many attacks from happening.”

savaged sheep

© Brian Walker

Four key campaign messages aimed at farmers and dog owners

  1. Be informed – know your responsibilities under the Code
  2. Plan ahead – know your route, ensure you have poo bags and a lead
  3. Control your pet – keep dogs on a lead around livestock. Know the steps to take if things don’t go to plan – cattle charging, dog escapes?
  4. Don’t leave it hanging – picking up your dog’s poo is not enough, take it with you and put it in a bin, even if on the fringes of farmland. Don’t just “flick it” into the bushes.
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