Farmers fear the growing menace of dog attacks

Scotland’s farmers are worried that the ‘pandemic generation’ of poorly-trained dogs could cause carnage in the countryside this Easter.

With lambing currently in full swing in many of the country’s hill and upland areas, they have warned that new-born lambs and pregnant ewes are at peak vulnerability – and farming organisations have called on Easter visitors to the Scottish countryside to keep their dogs under control to protect all livestock in the nation’s fields.

One leading insurer said it feared that inexperienced owners and untrained year-old dogs acquired during the pandemic could cause even greater problems than normal this Easter if let off-lead in the countryside.

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Research carried out by the NFU Mutual -which last year handled over £1.5 million worth of claims for sheep worrying attacks – showed that with many new owners taking on lockdown labradors, covid collies and other breeds for the first time over the pandemic , almost three quarters of dog owners believed it was fine to allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside, despite 49% admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

“With many people planning an Easter trip to the countryside with dogs which aren’t used to being around sheep, we’re worried there could be a surge in attacks,” said the Mutual’s Rebecca Davidson, who said even small dogs could cause significant losses.

“As the weather improves for the Bank Holiday, we understand people want to make the most of the countryside, however it’s crucial that this is done responsibly. While harmless at home, gentle family pets can quickly turn to their natural instincts out in the fields, leaving a trail of horrific injuries to sheep and new-born lambs,” she said, adding it was crucial to keep dogs on leads.

A reminder was also issued to dog walkers that new tougher laws surrounding sheep attacks meant that irresponsible dog-owners could now face fines of up to £40,000 and imprisonment in Scotland.

The Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC), which earlier in the year launched an awareness raising campaign with the slogan: ‘Your Dog – Your Responsibility’ to educate dog owners about the new legislation said the campaign would run throughout the Easter period.

The coalition of countryside organisations added that the new legislation had updated the list of farm animals to include camelids such as llamas and alpacas, together with ostriches, game birds and farmed deer, offering them the same protection under the law.

Meanwhile the landowners and rural business organisation, Scottish Land and Estates said that dog-walkers, land managers and farmers could work together to reduce the risk of attacks on livestock during Easter and beyond.

SLE policy advisor, Simon Ovenden said that while the countryside welcomed visitors, it was crucial to minimise the risk of dog attacks when the lambing season was underway and the countryside was welcoming visitors and walkers across Scotland.

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Advising farmers and landowners to display clear, simple signs aimed at the public, on gates at relevant times of the year, he also called on dog owners to follow the Outdoor Access Code and not to take dogs in amongst pregnant and newborn animals.

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