Farm leaders in England, Wales and Ireland have called for stronger legislation to crack down on livestock worrying after a landmark dog attack bill passed through the Scottish parliament.
The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Scotland) Bill, tabled by Emma Harper MSP, will become law later this year. Prison sentences of 12 months and a maximum fine of £40,000 are among the tough new measures.
The new bill will give police more powers to investigate dog attacks, and Scotland’s strong stance on the ever-present threat to livestock farmers has prompted demands for similar action across the UK.
National Sheep Association (NSA) chairman Phil Stocker praised Ms Harper for leading the way on the issue.
As lockdown restrictions ease heading into the Easter weekend, the NSA and RSPCA joined forces to warn farmers about the likely increased footfall in the countryside, and the need for dog owners to keep pets on a lead near livestock at all times.
Mr Stocker told Farmers Weekly: “We are hearing of more and more cases and the severity of those incidents is getting worse. We do need stronger legislative powers.
“The police aren’t keen if they don’t think courts will take it forward, so strengthening legislation is the key part. If there are stronger fines and sentencing, then the courts will probably take it more seriously.”
Currently, under The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 in England and Wales, the maximum penalty available for the dog owner is a fine of up to £1,000, and court costs, if a dog is caught worrying sheep or the farmer can prove that the dog worried sheep.
Current laws ‘weak’
Farmers’ Union of Wales deputy president Ian Rickman said the current livestock worrying laws were weak and “no longer serve their purpose”.
“We are hopeful that there is going to be a substantial change taking place, and we will do all we can to support our police forces in getting a change in the law,” said Mr Rickman.
Irish Farmers’ Association sheep chairman Sean Dennehy said Scotland’s “get tough” policy on dog attacks was in stark contrast to the approach in Ireland.
“Unfortunately, there has been an abject failure by our authorities to put appropriate sanctions in place to deal with the irresponsible and reckless behaviour of some dog owners,” he added.