Dog owners are being asked to act responsibly when exercising their animals in the countryside and always be mindful that there may be grazing livestock nearby.
The message comes at the start of a campaign launched on Thursday by Police Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, National Farmers Union Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, The National Sheep Association (Scotland) and the Kennel Club, to raise awareness among dog owners about the devastating effects of livestock worrying.
The campaign runs until the end of May and seeks to highlight to dog owners who live in or walk their dogs in the countryside that they must act responsibly and keep their dogs under close control.
This is particularly important at this time of the year when sheep farms are busy with spring lambs. Pregnant ewes and then new born lambs are particularly vulnerable at this time of year and a dog attacking, chasing or even being at large in a field where sheep are kept can lead to significant injury and often leads to the sheep being killed or destroyed.
Such attacks have a financial and emotional impact on the farmer and cause immense suffering to the animals, and are avoidable if dog owners follow some simple steps.
Inspector Jane Donaldson, Police Scotland's Rural Crime Co-ordinator, said: “While the reported livestock worrying crimes reduced last year, down from 179 in 2016 to 130 in 2017, we remain focussed and committed to reducing these incidents further.
“Our crime figures show us that the vast majority of these dog attacks are on sheep and that incidents rise over the spring months. The worrying of livestock can have devastating consequences for farmers both financial and emotional and on the profitability of their businesses”
“Livestock worrying can occur when a dog attacks, chases or in the case of sheep, is at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field where livestock is kept. The effects of a dog attacking sheep are evident and cannot be overstated but significant damage can also be caused by a dog simply being present in a field. Pregnant ewes can abort their lambs or lambs can be separated from their mothers, causing distress and in some cases malnutrition.
“Our advice to dog owners who live in rural areas or anyone walking and exercising their dogs in the countryside is to ensure that they are under control at all times and avoid going into fields where livestock is grazing. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says that dogs shouldn’t be taken into fields where there are lambs or other young farm animals.”
“Dog owners need to remember that it is every dog’s instinct to chase and that simply chasing a sheep or a lamb in a field will cause it significant distress. Dog owners should also be aware that a farmer has the right to kill or injure any dog worrying their livestock. No one wants to see sheep or someone’s family pet being killed or injured, so please keep your dogs under control”.
“We are also encouraging farmers and landowners to engage with dog walkers and to put signs up on gateways and on key roads and paths alerting them to the presence of sheep and lambs in their fields," she added.
Farmers and those who use the countryside are urged to report all incidents of livestock worrying to police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
Preventative measures can be also be taken using Dog Control Notices issued by the local authority. These written Notices can be served on owners who do not keep their dogs under proper control and place control measures such as keeping the dog on a lead or being muzzled in a public place.
Police Scotland will also enforce the existing legislation robustly, ensuring all reported cases of sheep worrying are thoroughly investigated and offenders reported to the Procurator Fiscal.