The Scottish Partnership against Rural Crime (SPARC) has identified the worrying of livestock as one of the key issues impacting on rural / agricultural communities in Scotland.
Incidents are highest during March, April and May, coinciding with the main lambing season, however another peak comes in November, coinciding with ewes being brought onto lower land for mating and being in fields accessible by dog walkers or straying dogs.
Consequently earlier this month Police Scotland in collaboration with others launched a month-long campaign to raise awareness among dog owners about the devastating effects of livestock worrying and to promote responsible dog walking in the countryside.
Where livestock has suffered the effects of a dog attack, it can have both financial and emotional consequences for the livestock owner, not to mention the suffering caused to the animal. Most incidents involve dogs attacking or chasing sheep or being at large in a field where livestock are kept. A lot of the time these incidences are down to ignorance as people do not understand the ramifications of letting their dog loose in a field of sheep. Crimes of sheep worrying are wholly preventable and the education of dog owners and farmers via campaigns is paramount.
The Police Scotland campaign chimes with our own Scottish Land & Estates, Care for the Countryside initiative which promotes enjoyment of rural land whilst ensuring the responsibilities that accompany the rights of responsible access are understood.
A key part of the Care for the Countryside campaign has been to educate dog owners on their responsibilities whether they live in rural areas or when they are walking or exercising their animals in the countryside. By working with partners, we hope messages on responsible dog ownership are being taken on board and will be reflected by a reduction of number of cases of livestock worrying reported to Police Scotland.
Following the below simple steps could help keep both dogs and livestock safe and ensure everyone can enjoy the countryside.
In some areas there remains an element of a “latch-key dog” culture, where dogs are put out and return home at will. These dogs frequently foul the same areas when out, e.g., back lanes, grass verges and neighbouring gardens generating significant concerns for residents and a large number of complaints to the Dog Welfare and Enforcement Service.
Indeed, the Kennel Club highlights that one of the main causes of sheep worrying is local dog owners repeatedly allowing their dogs to stray. Therefore, it is imperative that dog owners living near farmland ensure their dog is never let out unaccompanied and should check that their gardens are secure at all times.
We encourage people to report strays and support local councils in targeting the irresponsible minority at an early stage using Dog Control Notices.
Take the lead
Farmers want dog owners to enjoy walks in the countryside, but it should be remembered that the countryside is also a workplace. Dealing with the aftermath of a dog attack is very stressful and is one that can be easily avoided by observing the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and by keeping dogs on a lead when sheep are around.
We encourage landowners and farmers to engage with dog walkers and to help keep them informed by putting signs up on gateways and on key roads and footpaths alerting dog walkers to the presence of sheep and other livestock.
Livestock owners should familarise themselves with the code and erect appropriate signs to notify the public of the presence of livestock, putting signs up on gateways and on key roads and footpaths alerting them to their presences and requesting that dogs are kept under control and away from livestock.
We hope the Care for the Countryside campaign will continue to help highlight and alleviate some of the persistent problems that many landowners and farmers in Scotland face on a regular basis and in doing so, present the best possible experience for visitors to Scotland’s countryside during the rest of 2017, into 2018 and beyond.
To find out more about the Care for the Countryside campaign and the other areas chosen as a focus for the campaign please click here. There is a need to ensure that we continue to highlight persistent difficulties for our rural areas – and how these can be addressed to ensure everyone can enjoy the land responsibly.
Karen Ramoo, Policy Officer (Conservation & Wildlife Management)