As weather continues to improve you may be looking for new places to explore but remember that dogs and livestock rarely mix well. This week we have a guest post from Karen Ramoo, a Policy Adviser in Access, Conservation & Wildlife Management from Scottish Land and Estates. Below, she highlights the impacts that livestock worrying incidents can have on everyone and the long lasting issues that land owners can face.
From our agricultural lowlands to our valleys and more remote and rugged countryside, Scotland has stunning scenery and landscapes offering plenty to see and do. The open access rights that allow people to enjoy our natural environment go hand-in-hand with responsible use. Fortunately, both are respected the vast majority of the time.
However, issues such as out-of-control dogs being allowed to ‘worry’ livestock, can sometimes arise. While ‘Worrying’ may sound a bit light-hearted, it is anything but for the animals or for farmers and other land managers.
The term can refer to attacks on sheep, cattle, camelids- including alpacas and llamas, and horses – all which are, of course, devastating in themselves. However, it also includes chasing, which can also lead to all sorts of harm, ranging from stress to miscarriage in pregnant animals. It’s important to note that such incidents cause perfectly avoidable suffering alongside other welfare issues for livestock.
Looking at the human impact, there’s often a lot of distress for farm or land workers who sometimes have to deal with multiple dead or horribly injured livestock. As well as the emotional effect or this, the financial implications can be severe, such as vets’ bills or the loss of valuable livestock.
Rural insurer, NFU Mutual, reported that in the last two years costs from livestock worrying have more than quadrupled in Scotland with the total cost to the industry in 2017 estimated at £1.6m. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is still a knock-on effect on breeding programmes and business practices that can take years to overcome.
Scottish Land and Estate is aware of one estate farm located close to Edinburgh that has had enough and has taken drastic action. Ground that was previously used to graze sheep has now cleared its livestock following the death of 22 animals over 12 months from dog attacks. The farm is now left with 22 acres of ground that is now long grass and no immediate plans as to what to do with it.
Most dog owners are responsible but regrettably some are not. Letting them stray or run loose not only runs the risks already mentioned, but also puts dogs’ lives in danger. Whether people believe their beloved pet wouldn’t harm another animal, it’s just not worth taking the chance.
We encourage all dog owners to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which provides advice such as keeping dogs on a short lead or close at heel when livestock are around, not taking them into fields where there are young animals, and generally staying as far away as possible.
Land managers want everyone to enjoy the countryside and – with a bit of caution and common sense – for dogs and livestock to exist safely alongside each other.
If you are heading out with your dog, make sure to do so responsibly. If you need more help and advice check out our free online course Responsible Dog Walking in Scotland’s Great Outdoors. Why not show us how you are putting our course or the Scottish Outdoor Access Code into practice using our #TakeTheLead hashtag on social media!