New campaign to tackle issues caused by irresponsible dog walkers

Livestock worrying and dog fouling are two of the biggest issues that Scottish farmers face when it comes to irresponsible dog walkers
Livestock worrying and dog fouling are two of the biggest issues that Scottish farmers face when it comes to irresponsible dog walkers

A new campaign has been launched to tackle issues caused by irresponsible dog walkers, such as livestock worrying and dog foul on farmland.

The ‘Control Your Dog on Farmland’ campaign was launched at the NFU Scotland's AGM and Conference on Thursday (7 February).

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

Livestock worrying and dog fouling are two of the biggest issues that farmers and landowners face through irresponsible access by dog owners.

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

The survey had more than 340 responses, which showed that 72 per cent of respondents had an issue with livestock worrying on their land.

100 per cent of survey respondents said they have an issue with dog fouling on their land – this included plastic bag pollution as well as instances where livestock have contracted diseases from eating dog poo and plastic bags.

And 84 per cent of responses felt the outdoor access code requiring ‘on a lead or under close control’ didn’t provide sufficient protection to them or their livestock.

Tougher penalties

Over the last 12 months, NFU Scotland stepped up its action to tackle livestock worrying, such as giving its backing to a Members’ Bill by Emma Harper MSP seeking tougher penalties for those convicted of allowing their dog to chase or attack livestock.

According to Police Scotland, a total of 338 incidents of livestock worrying were reported to them in 2018, with 131 incidents resulting in police conducting investigations.

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

For livestock, it is not just the physical attacks by dogs that can cause damage; even allowing dogs to chase or ‘play’ with sheep or cattle, for example, can cause untold damage – from emotional issues to abortions to rendering the animal unable to be used for breeding in future.

In addition, there are significant emotional issues for the farmers involved who work tirelessly to breed quality sheep to the highest welfare standards.

'Damage is underestimated'

The campaign educates dog owners about responsible access when walking on or near farmland through national and regional events.

It also seeks to educate walkers about the dangers of walking in fields with cattle and what to do if cattle charge at them or their pet.

Andrew McCornick, NFU Scotland President said: “It is clear that the industry can no longer tolerate the problem of dog owners who do not control their dogs on farmland.

“I would urge all farmers and crofters to work with us on this issue and to report each and every incident of livestock being attacked or chased or pet owners allowing their dogs to foul on their land.

“Many people underestimate the damage dogs can do to livestock – whether that is attacking them when being off a lead or causing them to contract dangerous diseases through their poo – we need dog owners to take responsibility for controlling their dogs whilst out enjoying the countryside.”

He added: “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.”

'Truly devastating'

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

In addition, this 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 dogs to seriously injure and kill 17 sheep on Brian’s farm, totalling damages of £4,100.

Mr Walker said: “Dog attacks on livestock are pretty much a daily occurrence on farms in Scotland. Having suffered multiple attacks, it’s not just the financial impact.

“When you arrive at a field and see sheep running around with parts of their faces torn off, that will be ingrained in my head for ever. It’s truly devastating.

“My sheep that were attacked were all breeding animals that would have gone on to produce lambs for the next four to five years. That is taken from me within minutes.

“Can you imagine someone having money taken out of their salary over the next five years by their employer and having no control in the matter?”

Mr Walker added: “Remember when you are entering land with livestock you are entering someone’s business premises; how would you react if someone came onto your premises and started destroying your possessions? We need dog owners to start taking responsibility and treating farmland and our businesses with respect.”