Public consultation launched on livestock protection bill

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Following extensive work to provide protection to farmers and crofters who have suffered attacks on livestock by dogs, NFU Scotland has backed the launch of a public consultation on this issue.

At the Scottish Parliament last Thursday, South Scotland MSP Emma Harper launched a public consultation ahead of a proposed members’ bill to tackle incidents of dogs attacking livestock, the detail of which NFU Scotland has played an integral role in.

The proposed Protection of Livestock (Scotland) Bill aims to give police, courts and potentially other agencies more powers to properly tackle offences of dogs attacking livestock.

Livestock attacks continue to be a blight on Scottish agriculture, and NFU Scotland launched a campaign earlier in February to influence a change in behaviours of irresponsible dog owners and encourage them to keep their dogs on a lead when walking on farmland.

It comes just weeks after the Banner highlighted the worrying rise in sheep attacks on Arran which saw three serious incidents in four months, the most serious of which led to a dog killing two Cheviot ewes carrying lambs at Glenkiln Farm in Lamlash.

Last year Police Scotland had 338 incidents of attacks on livestock by dogs reported to them. Out of 340 responses from a recent NFU Scotland survey, 72 per cent said they had an issue with livestock worrying on their land, while 84 per cent of responses felt the outdoor access code requiring ‘on a lead or under close control’ did not provide sufficient protection to them or their livestock.

Ms Harper said: ‘Livestock worrying/attack is an enormous issue which I know is of concern to people across the agricultural sector.

‘Irresponsible dog owners who allow their dogs to roam the countryside, while not under close control, and worry, attack and mutilate livestock is harmful not just to animal welfare but can have severe implications for farmers.

‘Research has indicated that current legislation simply either doesn’t adequately make reference to livestock and wildlife worrying/attack or is not strong enough to prevent the issue.

‘I am therefore bringing forward a consultation for a new bill of the Scottish parliament which would increase penalties and provide additional powers to investigate and enforce the offence of livestock worrying.’

Martin Kennedy, vice president of NFU Scotland  said: ‘This public consultation is welcomed by NFU Scotland. It is a useful platform on which to build towards more proportionate sanctions for those irresponsible owners who allow their dogs to worry livestock.

‘Last year the union outlined “key asks” that it would like to see within a bill – in particular higher fines, a ban on owning dogs and additional powers for the police – so we are delighted that some of these asks are included within the proposed bill.

‘We would encourage as many farmers and crofters as possible to fill out this consultation within the 12-week window to provide a true reflection of the extent dog attacks on livestock continue to have on our industry.’

Inspector Alan Dron, Police Scotland’s rural crime co-ordinator, said: ‘These figures illustrate exactly why our current campaign ‘Your Dog – Your Responsibility’ is targeting those who live in the rural community and do not keep their dogs under control. We identified this as an issue, as well as those who live in towns and cities taking their dogs into the countryside where they are also not kept under full control.’

Meanwhile, according to claims figures from NFU Mutual, which insures three quarters of farmers, farm animals worth more than £750,000 have been savaged by dogs in Scotland over the past four years. Although there was a fall between 2017 to 2018, figures remain historically high with an 80 per cent increase in the cost of attacks since 2015.

Consultation on the bill closes on May 15 and comments can be made via the members’ bill section of the Scottish parliament website.