Flockdown, at least, is finally over.
The hens emerged blinking into the sunlight this week, dusting off their feathers after the winter-long incarceration effort to evade the avian virus.
Unfortunately the relaxation of Covid restrictions is considerably slower than for those for bird flu, which means Perth Show, a highlight of the summer for much of the industry in Central Scotland, has finally gone the way of the Royal Highland, Angus, Fife and countless others.
The dedication of the organisers means the most passionate stocksfolk will still be able to halter up their animals and compete for rosettes, sashes and trophies in the South Insh show rings and enthusiasts will undoubtedly follow the judging online. But there will be no opportunity here or at any other major event to engage directly with the public or subtly influence the behaviour of city dwellers when they head out to make the most of their new-found freedom in the Scottish countryside this summer.
The recent plethora of press releases from sheep organisations begging the public to keep dogs on leads is an indication of the degree to which shepherds are braced for carnage in their fields as soon as this weekend. They know only too well that many puppies and untrained dogs bought during lockdown which “wouldn’t harm a fly” will unfortunately prove quite capable of doing the very opposite.
The Scottish Government’s Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) bill, which will become law within weeks, significantly increases the penalties for livestock worrying to a fine of £40,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment (or both) and should be a deterrent to irresponsible dog owners.
But with alarming reports of public interference in the lambing fields – one just yesterday of a lamb being “rescued” and fed baby formula – there is a sense this Spring that tensions are rising, that the industry has had enough of fly tipping, littering and sheep worrying, and it is on high alert.
I am in utter disbelief. A member of the public took this lamb away from it’s mother because ‘it didn’t look too good’ and fed it baby formula 🤦🏽♀️🤬😩😞 it certainly doesn’t look too good now! pic.twitter.com/OVYCn5QmGS
— Helen Georgina (@helengeorgina94)
It feels as though is just a matter of time until there is a messy confrontation which will inevitably direct the focus – and the social media backlash – unfairly back to the farmer and result in stress, wasted time and energy at an already intense time of year.
That’s why the tone of the #walkieswithoutworries campaign launched by NFU Scotland this week is pitched just about right: not too preachy or unwelcoming to people who’ve been cooped up for months, but directing responsibility right back to dog owners.