THERE WAS a breakthrough for Scottish farmers in their fight against sheep worrying this week, as MSP Emma Harper announced a consultation towards strengthening the rules on responsible dog ownership around livestock and wildlife.

Despite initial caution expressed by ScotGov over reviewing the current legislation, Ms Harper, a passionate supporter of The Scottish farmer’s ‘Take a Lead’ campaign, has been given permission to develop a Members’ Bill on the matter.

Announcing the move at the NSA reception in parliament tonight, Ms Harper said: “Livestock worrying 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, whilst not under close control, and worry, attack and mutilate livestock, are harmful not just to animal welfare but can have severe financial implications for farmers,” she stressed.

“Research has indicated that current legislation simply either doesn’t adequately make reference to livestock and wildlife worrying or is not strong enough to prevent the issue. Indeed, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code does not specifically make it an obligation to keep dogs under strict control when accessing the countryside and working fields, nor does it give clear guidance on penalties which can be imposed on culprits.”

Ms Harper explained how she intends to target the wording around the current legislation: “I am therefore bringing forward a consultation for a new Bill of the Scottish Parliament which would allow for the consolidation of various forms of legislation which touch on livestock worrying, therefore allowing it to be concise, understandable and give clear guidance on the responsibility of dog owners. It will also allow for the establishment of consequences for breaches of the proposed legislation.

“I would encourage all to feed into the consultation and I look forward to engaging with stakeholders,” Ms Harper concluded.

Chairman of the National Sheep Association for Scotland, John Fyall, welcomed Ms Harper’s move: “This is great news for the sheep industry. There has never been a time where engagement on the issue of livestock worrying has been needed more than now.

“This bill needs to make clear definitions of what control of dogs means, as well as to better educate dog owners as to the potential impact of their actions, and the consequences not just to them, but to their pets and to other animals,” he stressed.

“The public should not see this as concern in terms of outdoor access. Farmers don’t want to restrict people’s access to the countryside, far from it,” said Mr Fyall. “However, they need to be made aware that this is a place of work and you wouldn’t walk in to someone’s workshop and cause damage – the same rules apply out on the fields with livestock.

He concluded: “It is not just about penalising dog owners, but people need to be aware that the few who are responsible for such actions often don’t count themselves as part of that few until it actually happens.”