Farmers in Scotland fear rising dog attacks this Easter

22/03/2024

WITH Easter set to see an increase in visitors to the countryside, NFU Mutual is reminding dog-owners to be extra vigilant at a time when sheep and lambs are at their most vulnerable.

The warning comes as Scottish farm animals worth an estimated £123,000 were severely injured or killed in Scotland in 2023, more than double the 2022 cost, latest figures from NFU Mutual reveal.

Across the UK, the estimated cost of livestock worrying soared by nearly 30% to £2.4 million last year.

At the same time, NFU Mutual’s recent survey of over 1,100 dog owners found more people were letting their dogs off leads in the countryside last year than in 2022, 68% and 64% respectively*.

Worryingly, less than half (49%) said their pet always comes back when called.

Almost eight percent admitted their dog chases livestock but 46% believed their dog was not capable of causing the death or injury of farm animals.

Martin Malone, NFU Mutual Manager for Scotland, said: “The Easter holidays is a great opportunity to explore Scotland’s countryside, but people must remember these idyllic rural destinations are working environments, key to farmers’ livelihoods and home to millions of sheep and new-born lambs.

“This year’s lambing season is well underway across Scotland, and farmers and crofters are understandably worried that an influx of out-of-control dogs this Easter could cause unnecessary carnage to new-born lambs out in the fields with their mothers for the first time.

“All dogs are capable of disturbing, chasing, attacking and killing farm animals, regardless of breed, size or temperament.

“That’s why we are urging everyone exercising their dogs in the countryside to keep them on a lead wherever livestock may be nearby but to let go if chased by cattle.”

NFU Scotland Policy Advisor for Rural Business, Rhianna Montgomery, said: “Whilst we encourage the public to enjoy the countryside over Easter, we must stress the importance of responsible dog ownership.

“This time of year, is extremely important to farmers with many in the swings of lambing. It is also a very vulnerable time for the sheep yet to lamb and those with lambs at foot. Please avoid livestock where possible, if you come across sheep with or without lambs, ensure your dog is on a lead as this is where you have the most control.”

Inspector Jordan Low of Police Scotland added: “Protecting livestock is an important issue and a priority for members of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC).

“As we approach the Easter break, we want people to enjoy the countryside but do so in a safe and responsible manner.

“Livestock worrying and attacks can result in injury, miscarriage and even death. The damage and distress caused not just to the animals, but the farming business is considerable.

“It is also a crime. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to ensure their dog is on a lead and under control when livestock is present. Failure to do so can result in a £40,000 fine or a 12-month prison sentence.

“We have several tools at our disposal to investigate instances of livestock worrying and attacks and will utilise these to investigate instances of irresponsible dog ownership around livestock.

“Police Scotland through SPARC is committed to working with its partners to increase public awareness of the legislation to protect livestock from dog attacks and irresponsible dog owners will be prosecuted.”

**

Case study: Pauline Mitchell, Banffshire

Despite installing hundreds of metres of double fences to protect her livestock, Banffshire farmer Pauline Mitchell is still regularly having sheep killed and injured by out-of-control dogs.

A young, in-lamb Texel X ewe was the latest victim, found dead by a field gate with its throat ripped out less than two hours after Pauline had last checked the flock.

“All the sheep were crowded in a huddle in a corner of the field, so it was obvious they had been chased by a dog,” she said.

“It’s a continual problem – we’re in a spot which is very popular with walkers, and many let their dogs roam free despite us having livestock in the fields.

“We’ve put in double fencing and grown thick hedges to separate our livestock from walkers and we’ve put in hard-core trails in the most popular locations.

“However, people still encourage their dogs to get into the fields to run round while they walk on the fenced paths. It’s very frustrating. They can’t seem to grasp that all dogs have an instinct to attack grazing animals and even chasing them can cause serious injuries.”

The worst attack was 15 years ago when two spaniels rampaged through the grazing fields killing 28 sheep. As well as causing a series of sheep deaths and injuries, dogs have also worried Pauline’s cattle, chasing them round fields until they smashed down fences to escape.

“With the help of The Crown Estate footpaths and fencing have been installed over the years for the safety of walkers and to separate them from the livestock,” she added.

“We’ve also grown thick hedges along many walks and installed gates to protect sheep where possible.”

Part of a family who have farmed in the Scottish Highlands for generations, she farms in partnership with her father, Charles Irvine. They currently 400 Texel X ewes and a hundred suckler cows on a holding of 1,400 acres including 700 acres of upland grazing.


NFU Mutual’s tips for dog owners visiting the countryside this Easter:

  • Keep dogs on a lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept, but let go of the lead if chased by cattle
  • Be aware that all dogs, regardless of size, breed, and temperament, can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals
  • Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers
  • Never let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby



The latest stories