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A Scottish awareness campaign highlighting the problem of dog attacks on livestock seems to have made an impact – but with lockdown and lambing about to coincide, new figures reveal more is needed.
Reports of livestock attacks to Police Scotland fell slightly last year but horrific incidents continue to cause suffering to livestock and anxiety for farmers.
And a spate of attacks in 2021 has sparked warnings to those visiting the countryside to keep their pets under control.
New research from insurer NFU Mutual reveals that almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of dog owners are letting their pets roam free in the countryside, despite half of owners surveyed admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.
The research revealed that 42 per cent of dog owners have been walking their pets more often in the countryside during the pandemic, and that 81 per cent have noticed more people exercising their pets in rural areas.
In Scotland the number of attacks reported to Police Scotland decreased by 13 per cent in 2020 after a joint campaign to tackle livestock attacks by dogs.
Mark McBrearty, regional manager for Scotland at NFU Mutual, said: ‘We are encouraged by the decrease in Scotland last year and it is a testament to the proactive work which has been led by police and farming groups.
‘We want people to enjoy the countryside as it’s so important for people’s wellbeing. It’s vital that dog owners act responsibly and keep dogs on a lead and under control whenever there is a possibility livestock are nearby.’
Police Inspector Alan Dron, national rural crime co-ordinator, said: ‘Through consistently raising awareness of this emotive offence, Police Scotland takes any report of livestock attacks or worrying seriously. This has resulted in more dog attacks being reported and investigated plus, where applicable, owners brought before the courts.’
Alarmingly, only 40 per cent of the dog owners surveyed by NFU Mutual accepted that their pet could cause the injury or death of a farm animal.
Debs Roberts, a farmer from Auchterarder and co-founder of the Ladies Who Lamb Facebook network, explained: ‘It feels like crisis point at the moment, with daily reports of terribly upsetting incidents where dogs chase and sometimes attack sheep close to lambing. The distress and frustration is something that doesn’t go away, even flashbacks of the horrific injuries and deaths are very traumatic.
‘It’s important that dog owners realise that all breeds, not just the big, fierce-looking ones, are capable of chasing and attacking sheep. Even if a dog doesn’t make physical contact, the distress and exhaustion of the chase can cause sheep to die or miscarry their lambs.
‘We really send a plea to dog owners that they keep dogs on leads for the next few months. Please follow signs, as they are there to protect you and your dog, and to make your walk safe for all.’
NFU Mutual offers the following advice:
- Always keep dogs on the lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if you are chased by cattle
- Be aware that even small dogs can chase, injure and kill farm animals
- Take special care to keep close control of dogs unused to farm animals
- Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to the police or local farmers
- Don’t let dogs loose and unsupervised in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby