Signs urge caution from dog owners as farmers fear dog attacks on livestock this Easter in the Highlands and the rest of Scotland
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Signs warning dog owners to keep their pets on the lead near livestock are being offered to Scottish farmers by leading rural insurer NFU Mutual and NFU Scotland.
The signs are being put up on gates and fences where sheep are grazed as fears grow that large numbers of people walking dogs in the Scottish countryside over Easter will spark a rise in incidents.
A survey of dog owners commissioned by NFU Mutual reveals that 95 per cent of dog owners will keep their pets on the lead if they see a sign warning that livestock are grazing nearby.
It is a critical time for farmers as the spring lambing period is now well underway, meaning ewes and new born lambs are often grazing close to footpaths, which can put them at risk of dog attacks.
According to the survey 88 per cent of people say they now walk their dog in the countryside. While 64 per cent of dog owners say they let their dog run off the lead – only half admit their pet does not always come back when called.
Mark McBrearty, NFU Mutual Scotland regional manager, said: “These attacks cause immense suffering to animals and are devastating for farmers.
“Dog attacks are easily preventable if owners keep their pets on a lead when livestock may be nearby. Doing so keeps sheep and their lambs safe from harm and stops a country walk turning into carnage.
“Our research has found that 95 per cent of dog owners said they would put their pet on a lead if they saw a warning sign and we are pleased to be working with NFU Scotland to support members with signage.”
Gemma Cooper, NFU Scotland’s head of policy team, said: “As we prepare to emerge from lockdown at a time that coincides with peak lambing and calving, it is more imperative than ever that dog owners ensure that their pets are controlled in the countryside. Bright, clear signage is a vital tool in driving the message of responsible dog ownership home.
“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 being passed by the Scottish Parliament.
"When enacted later this year, the bill will significantly increase penalties and powers for investigation in cases where livestock have been attacked by dogs.”
Walkers are also being urged to report any incidents of livestock worrying to save animals from suffering for hours from unreported injuries. Alarmingly, only 18 per cent of those surveyed said they would call the police if they saw a dog chasing or attacking livestock and only 15 per cent would report it to a local farmer. If you are unsure of your location, the ‘What3Words’ app is an effective way to pinpoint where you are within a 3m by 3m area.
To make dog walking safe, NFU Mutual is issuing the following advice:
• Keep dogs on the lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept but let go of the lead if 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.
Advice on preventing dogs attacking livestock is available from NFU Mutual’s website.