Call to keep dogs under control in the North East countryside

While many of us have worked from home over the last 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, for Scotland’s farmers and crofters it has been business as usual, meeting the demands for fresh produce on our supermarket shelves and butchers shops.

By Dawn Renton
Friday, 19th March 2021, 7:00 am
Dog owners are being urged to put their pets on leads where there is livestock.
Dog owners are being urged to put their pets on leads where there is livestock.

Spring time is of course one of the most important times of the year for sheep farmers, spending long hours tending pregnant ewes and vulnerable new lambs. That is why it is more important than ever to ensure that dog owners avoid livestock and always keep their dogs under control and in sight – even better would be to keep dogs on leads at all times – when in or close to fields with pregnant ewes and new born lambs.

While reported cases of livestock worrying in the Cairngorms National Park are low it is nonetheless a serious worry for the Park’s farmers and crofters with dog fouling being another issue of concern. Parasites found in some dog faeces can result in the abortions of cattle and death in sheep.

Outdoor access officers at the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) are urging dog owners to put dogs on leads where there is livestock, regardless of whether the dog is well trained and usually walks to heel, and to ensure all poo is picked up and disposed of appropriately.

Adam Streeter Smith, Outdoor Access Officer at the CNPA said: “Every springtime we encourage dog owners to consider how and where they walk their dog to ensure a less stressful lambing time for our farmers and crofters. Dogs should never be off a lead where there could be pregnant ewes and newborn lambs. Our daily dog walks are good for our physical and mental health – and please continue to enjoy them – but please do so with the utmost care.”

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code and current legislation are very clear when it comes to the responsibilities that dog owners have when walking in or close to farmland and a dog caught amongst sheep could mean a hefty fine for the owner and the dog being destroyed.

CNPA board member and farmer Eleanor Mackintosh said: “Pregnant ewes and newborn lambs are extremely vulnerable and nervous at this time of year and should not be worried by dogs that have been allowed to run loose. The consequences can be devastating from miscarriage to injuries as a direct result of chasing or attacks by dogs that are not in control. No-one wants to have to witness the damage than can result from dogs that are allowed to run amok.”

NFU Scotland’s Head of Policy Team, Gemma Cooper said: “As we prepare to emerge from lockdown at a time that coincides with lambing and calving, it is more imperative than ever that dog owners ensure that their pets are controlled in the countryside.

“We continue to see the devastating impacts of dog attacks on livestock and this crime is completely unacceptable. Unfortunately, we know of a number of cases where farmers have been left with no choice but to shoot dogs that have worried livestock. Any dog, including the most placid family pet, can inflict horrific damage to animals such as sheep. Particularly during lambing season, dogs must not be taken into fields of pregnant ewes or fields where there are young lambs.

“Given that livestock attacks and dog fouling are two of the biggest issues that farmers and landowners face through the irresponsible actions of dog owners, the Union has welcomed the landmark Protection of Livestock Bill, as it makes its way through the Scottish Parliament. Having now passed Stage Two in the parliamentary process, the Bill will significantly increase penalties and powers for investigation in cases where livestock have been attacked by dogs.”

Mark and Alison run a small holding in rural Aberdeenshire. They have 22 pure bred Texel sheep in an 18-acre field near to their home.

One November afternoon Alison received a call from her mother-in-law to say that one of their neighbour’s dogs was in the field with their sheep. Mark and Alison raced to the field where they found a scene of devastation. Numerous sheep had blood on their faces, two were lying on the ground and one could be seen to have a significant injury to its face.

The dog, a small Border terrier, was now under control and tied to a fence post. Its owner, one of Mark and Alison’s neighbours, was visibly upset and immediately admitted her dog was responsible for what had happened.

“There was so much damage. I couldn’t believe a small dog could have caused such awful injuries,” said Alison. “Eight of our sheep had bites to their faces, some were laid out flat on the ground. Another had a more significant bite and had a gaping hole in its face. It was so upsetting. We had to get the vet immediately.”

Following a course of expensive treatment, the sheep with the most severe injury had to be put to sleep.

“She couldn’t be saved, she was left with a huge hole in her face, and her injuries were too extensive. Because we only have 22 sheep she was like a pet, always coming up to us looking for attention. It’s been really heart-breaking.”

There have been long term practical implications for the couple as Mark explains: “As well as physical scars the sheep have been left really wary and they panic whenever they see dogs. This makes it very hard for us to handle them.”

Police Scotland encourages 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, and to report all incidents of livestock worrying to police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code provides comprehensive advice for dog walkers and all aspects of accessing the Scottish countryside.