The new legislation protects animals from dog attacks through a range of measures including updating the livestock definition, imposing fines of up to £40,000 and prison sentences for owners who let their pets worry, kill or injure farmed animals.
SPARC, the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, launched the Livestock Attack and Distress campaign with the slogan: ‘Your Dog – Your Responsibility’ to educate dog owners about the new legislation plus, where applicable, use the new powers to report owners of dogs which attack livestock.
The nationwide campaign was launched by SPARC last week at an event attended by SPARC members at the Pentland Hills Regional Park, near Balerno. The park is a popular location for dog walking and has unfortunately experienced a number of attacks on farm animals in recent years.
The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force on November 5 last year, following a successful Members Bill brought by MSP Emma Harper, supported by SPARC, NFU Scotland and livestock owners after continued attacks on farm animals by out-of-control dogs.
Under the new legislation, camelids such as llamas and alpacas, together with ostriches, game birds and farmed deer are now protected plus the inclusion of the word “attack” is welcomed as this clearly reflects the more serious aspect of such an incident.
The new law also includes provision to fine the owners of dogs that attack livestock up to £40,000 or even send them to prison.
The campaign will run through the forthcoming lambing season, when sheep and lambs are most vulnerable to attacks.
It will then run again in the autumn.
The need to communicate the new measures to the dog-owning public has been shown by a recent survey commissioned by leading rural insurer NFU Mutual with Scottish dog owners.
Only four per cent of people surveyed knew they could now be fined up to £40,000 if their dog attacked livestock and only 22 per cent knew they could be sent to prison if their dog attacked livestock.
NFU Mutual claims figures show that the UK cost of dog attacks on livestock rose by 50 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period the previous year, as the pandemic led to a surge in dog ownership and countryside visits.
Inspector Alan Dron, Police Scotland national rural crime co-ordinator, said: “Attacks on livestock by dogs is an emotive issue that impacts on rural communities throughout Scotland therefore Police Scotland welcomes this new legislation which can hopefully assist in preventing, reducing and tackling such instances.
“Its introduction is timely given the increase in dog ownership experienced during Covid and the aim of the campaign is designed to educate and raise awareness amongst dog owners, whether new or experienced, that their dog is very much their responsibility.”
NFU Scotland rural business policy adviser Rhianna Montgomery said that the organisation is delighted to be involved in the campaign.
“With hundreds of incidents across Scotland each year, the protection of livestock is paramount for our members,” she said.
"The new Bill gives greatly enhanced powers to tackle this blight.
"Working closely with other stakeholders, informing and educating the public of good practice when taking access in the countryside with dogs, and the penalties now in place for those who are irresponsible, is imperative in reducing the number of livestock attacks.”
Mark McBrearty, regional manager for Scotland at NFU Mutual, also welcomed the new legislation saying that, while people should have access to the countryside, it underlines their responsibilities in ensuring they keep their dogs under control.
He said: “Dog attacks are causing appalling suffering to animals and huge anxiety for farmers and crofters as they deal with the aftermath. The new legislation is a huge step forward as it means farmers and police are able to trace offending dogs’ owners and impose serious penalties.
“We’re supporting the ‘Your Dog - Your Responsibility’ campaign to spread the message about the new law and encourage irresponsible dog owners to control their pets. We want people to enjoy the countryside as it’s so important for people’s well-being. It’s vital that dog owners act responsibly and keep dogs under control whenever there is a possibility that livestock are nearby.”
The need for robust legislation was further demonstrated by an NFU Mutual survey last year which showed that 64 per cent of UK dog owners let their pets roam free in the countryside, despite half admitting their dog did not always come back when called.
A spokesperson for Police Scotland’s Tayside division said: “No dog can be trusted around livestock.
“Your dog can harm or even kill farm animals and may be put down if out of control on farmland. The owner may also be charged with a criminal offence resulting in a substantial fine.
"The stress of being chased is enough to cause animals to die or for pregnant animals to miscarry. Incidents also have a significant emotional and financial impact on farmers. As we come into the lambing season, we are working with NFU Scotland to remind dog owners to act responsibly.”