SHEEP WORRYING moved up the political agenda this week, as the latest meeting of the multi-agency Scottish National Partnership Against Rural Crime was dominated by discussion of the problems that out of control dogs are inflicting on Scottish farmers and crofters.

Following on from recent incidents in the Scottish Borders and Argyll, which saw dogs kill and inflict horrific injuries on a significant number of sheep, the National Farmers Union Scotland used the SPARC meeting to express its frustration that, despite efforts to encourage voluntary restraint by dog walkers, these attacks are continuing to occur with alarming frequency.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual recently revealed that the cost of claims related to livestock worrying has reached a record level of £1.6 million across the UK, while the cost of dog attacks on Scottish livestock reported to the firm had quadrupled in the last two years to more than £50,000.

With lambing now underway on Scottish farms and crofts, a campaign is already underway to raise awareness amongst dog owners about the devastating effects of livestock worrying, backed by NFUS, Police Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Land and Estates, National Sheep Association (Scotland) and the Kennel Club.

At Tuesday’s SPARC meeting, which was attended by Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing, the union’s Legal and Technical chairman Jamie Smart said: “The events of last week in Jedburgh and Inveraray have demonstrated the sheer devastation that is caused by out of control dogs.

“The graphic images of dead and mauled sheep underlined that the impact of irresponsible dog ownership on farmers’ livelihoods cannot be underestimated. Whilst Police Scotland has responded positively to this issue, there is a real lack of awareness at local authority level about the true impact of this problem," said Mr Smart.

“Local authorities are responsible for upholding access rights under the 2003 Act, but NFUS is not convinced that this is translating into the assistance that is required for farmers where things go wrong. There are some interim steps which can assist where dogs are repeatedly out of control, including the use of dog control notices. However, we know anecdotally that not all local authority dog wardens are keen to use these. Once in place, if breached, then problem dogs can be removed or destroyed."

NFUS would now like to see all local authorities using these dog control notices as a matter of course to deal with repeatedly straying dogs, and plans to write to all local authorities to highlight the availability of the measure. The union is also looking further into areas where legislation could be improved to help deal with the issue.

NFUS policy manager Gemma Cooper added: “Despite a vast amount of awareness raising, livestock worrying remains a blight on Scottish livestock farming. There is no such thing as an irresponsible dog, only irresponsible dog owners.

“With lambing underway across Scotland, NFUS welcomes the current campaign and urges the public to ensure that, when out and about, all dogs are under proper control and the public should not take access in fields where heavily pregnant ewes or young lambs are present.

“Last year there were a number of instances where farmers were left with no choice but to destroy dogs they caught worrying their stock, and in addition to this a number of owners received hefty sanctions," she noted. “We welcome robust enforcement of the legislation in this area and urge our members to continue to report all incidents of livestock worrying to Police Scotland.”

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