NSA IS worried about increasing reports of sheep worrying, and has been running a Social Media campaign this week. I am sure many of you will seen the pictures and heartfelt stories on Facebook. NSA Scotland has been working closely with QMS, NFUS, SNH, SSPCA, SLE, with the full support of Police Scotland, and we are hoping to engage dog owner organisations such as the Kennel Club.

A QMS-funded campaign raised awareness last year and the Sheep Wise video will be running again, along with a radio campaign around Jess the Dog led by SNH which is already receiving good feedback. We welcome the initiative by The Scottish Farmer, feeding into the Herald Group, as we farmers need to break out of our echo-chamber and start to really push the mainstream press.

Our tack is to educate and increase awareness, but if we do not see an improvement in this then we are quite prepared as an organisation to press the Scottish Government for changes to the access laws which ensure all dogs are on a lead around sheep, if there is a necessity to be in the field in the first place.

Anyone accessing farmland should be aware they are crossing a place of rural business and treat it respectfully, and farm animal welfare should always take precedence over an access code that was meant to improve people's experience of rural Scotland, not cause suffering.

I don't think we will eliminate the problem, but we should be able to reduce it to an exceptional occurrence. If you do encounter a problem, try and get a witness and get hold of the dog. Try and identify the owner. Shooting is a last resort if it is safe do so and the damage looks likely to continue, and inform the police as soon as you can. We are finding them supportive if you have tried your best and been reasonable.

Even if it is a friend's dog we would recommend reporting the incident so we get a national picture of frequency. Take as much evidence as you can, as there may be damage down the line of abortion, fly strike or disease. If you wish, report the incident to our Malvern office who are trying to collate more information and have a list of people who might be willing to speak to local press.

The following is a summary of current relevant legislation, though as an indication only not formal advice!

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, the person in charge of the worrying dog is guilty of an offence.

If the dog is not caught but there is reasonable suspicion of its identity the owner can be issued with a Dog Control Order, allowing the police to intervene if they fail to comply, and also there is the opportunity to invoke ASBO legislation.

The Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 allows killing the dog if there is no other reasonable means of stopping the attack, or the dog is still in the vicinity, and there is no means of establishing ownership of the dog. If the owner is nearby then this is not a clear right without the owner’s permission.

Anyone destroying another’s property (i.e a dog) can also be criminally liable; unless there is lawful excuse for killing or injuring a dog, the offence of causing criminal damage will be committed. Interestingly though this can also be a defence for a farmer if their own property was being damaged.

Be aware too your firearms certificate has tight definitions on what you can shoot so any action should be as a clear last resort under the 1987 act, and you should notify the Police immediately, but certainly within 48 hours.

Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, access rights do not allow members of the public on to land with a dog which is not under proper control.

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code states those exercising access rights must keep their dog(s) under proper control and their dog does not worry livestock.” When around sheep you should:-

• Not take your dog into a field where there are lambs. Go into a neighbouring field or onto adjacent land. In open country, keep your dog on a short lead (two metres or shorter) when there are lambs around and keep away from them;

• Keep your dog on a short lead or under close control if you need to go into a field where there are sheep. The SOAC defines ‘under close control’ as close at heel and responsive to your commands. Stay distant from the sheep;

• Keep your dog under close control in more open country where there are sheep and stay away from them.

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