Livestock worrying in Scotland has hit a seven-year high.
As farmers and crofters enter a busy time of year for lambing and calving, the losses that are caused by livestock worrying can be devastating.
Last year saw the highest number of instances from over the last seven years, prompting the union to renew its plea to dog owners to avoid fields with livestock, and keep dogs by their sides if out enjoying the countryside.
Figures, obtained by NFU Scotland through a Freedom of Information request, detailed that there had been 179 instances of livestock worrying, where the animals have been hurt or killed. That is up by 46 incidents on the previous year.
Highlands and Islands and Lothians and Borders saw the highest number of livestock worrying incidents, 36 and 27 respectively, with Aberdeenshire and Moray in third with 22.
As well as the ongoing day to day activity on livestock worrying, NFU Scotland has supported, for a second year running, a multi-partner awareness-raising campaign by the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, which NFU Scotland is a member of.
Ayrshire farmer, Jimmy Ireland of Feoch Farm, has had an ongoing issue with dogs worrying sheep on his farm. He said
Sheep worrying continues to be a burden on us, and it is not just the financial losses we suffer, but the stress it can cause for sheep, and the time we have to take away from the day to day running of our business to deal with such cases.
Those responsible just don’t realise the damage their dogs can do by being amongst livestock. Ninety-nine per cent of those who are walking their dogs in this area are responsible, it’s the one per cent who are being careless, and they are the ones that need to be educated. We need dog owners to be mindful of going into fields, not just at this time of year during lambing and calving, but throughout the year.
I have been dealing with Police Scotland locally to push for prosecution for those responsible, but the issue continues to rear its ugly head time and again. Reluctantly we can be left with no option but to shoot a dog to stop it worrying our livestock.
Gary Mitchell, Vice President of NFU Scotland commented
The worrying of livestock can have devastating consequences for a farmer and their stock and as these statistics suggest, it is becoming an increasing problem for Scotland’s farmers and crofters.
Sheep are particularly at risk during the spring lambing period and we need dog owners to take action to prevent livestock worrying otherwise, if their dog is found worrying livestock they could face prosecution, as we have seen with some cases that have gone to court recently. The farmer is also within their legal rights to shoot a dog if it is found to be worrying livestock – not a decision that is taken lightly.
We are appealing to dog walkers to avoid fields where very young livestock, or heavily pregnant ewes are present, and if there is no alternative route, owners should keep their dogs on a lead and under close control or at heel.
We also ask farmers and crofters to report instances to Police Scotland after they have occurred, taking photographic evidence where possible. Farmers who have an ongoing problem with individuals letting their dogs worry livestock are encouraged to contact their local authority to enforce a Dog Control Notice to deter this sort of behaviour.
You can read the open letter from Andrew McCornick, President of NFU Scotland urging the public to keep dogs on leads when out and about in the countryside over the coming months here, Appeal to dog owners from NFU Scotland.