Farmers’ union NFU Scotland has teamed up with Police Scotland to urge dog owners to keep their animals under control when visiting the countryside.
The plea comes ahead of an expected surge in visitors to the countryside once Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease – the same time as calving and lambing on many farms across the north and north-east.
NFU Scotland (NFUS) regional manager for the north-east, Lorna Paterson, said farmers were still experiencing the “devastating impacts” of dog attacks on livestock despite repeated pleas for people to keep their dogs under control.
“Such incidents not only cause obvious suffering to sheep and cattle, but they also have a financial, emotional and time impact on our members and their families and cause significant upset,” said Ms Paterson.
“Our farmers put hard labour into nurturing their sheep and cattle, taking real pride in their work. These attacks by dogs are not inevitable and are down to the irresponsible behaviour of their owners.”
She said NFUS and Police Scotland, in conjunction with Aberdeenshire Council, are reminding all visitors to the countryside to remember that all farms are working environments and must be respected by everyone accessing them.
“Please don’t underestimate your dog’s behaviour and remember that sometimes chasing sheep or cattle is seen as a type of game by many dogs,” added Ms Paterson.
“However, all too often, this can turn into a nightmare for the livestock, the farmers as well as yourself and your dog. Please stay safe, be responsible and keep your dog under close control.”
Police Scotland’s north-east division crime reduction officer, Constable Mike Urquhart, said: “There is a real need to educate the public and inform dog owners about the risks all dogs can pose to sheep especially in springtime when ewes are heavily pregnant.
“Farmers can legitimately shoot any dog that is worrying livestock as well as owners having destruction orders placed on dogs by the Courts.”
Two Aberdeenshire smallholders, who run a flock of 22 pure Texel sheep, have spoken of the devastation caused by dog attacks on livestock.
The pair suffered an attack on their flock by a neighbour’s Border Terrier dog, which led to eight sheep suffering bite injuries on their faces and another sheep suffering a more significant injury which resulted in it being put to sleep.
One of the smallholders likened the scene to a “massacre” and said: “It’s been really heart-breaking.”
The other said: “As well as physical scars the sheep have been left really wary and panic whenever they see dogs. This makes it very hard for us to handle them.”
The latest plea for dog owners to keep their pets under control follows figures released by rural insurer NFU Mutual earlier this year, which showed a 13% reduction in the number of dog attacks on livestock reported to police last year.
The insurer said although the number of incidents was down, the issue remained a major concern for farmers and crofters.
It also published findings from a survey of more than 1,200 dog owners which revealed 64% are letting their pets roam free in the countryside despite half saying their dog doesn’t always come back when called, and 42% of dog owners have been walking their pets more often in the countryside during the pandemic.