SCOTTISH Conservatives have accused the SNP government of 'total inaction' on livestock worrying, after it emerged that the largest fine which has been handed our for the offence was still only £500.

Despite efforts by SNP MSP Emma Harper to drive forward a private members’ Bill to look at tackling livestock worrying, Aberdeenshire MSP Peter Chapman has suggested that existing legislation could be strengthened while farmers are 'waiting patiently' for the new Bill to appear.

“I believe all dog owners must be aware of the harm an out of control dog can cause, and reckless dog owners should be punished," said Mr Chapman. "That may not require a whole Bill, rather strengthening of existing powers."

The number of livestock-worrying incidents across Scotland has more than doubled over the last decade, with official statistics revealing 170 offences in the 2017/18 period. However, information on the fines arising from these cases has revealed that the owners of dogs which have attacked sheep have been handed relatively inadequate penalties.

“If someone vandalised a car or other private property, their fine could be much higher,” stressed Mr Chapman. “That’s a kick in the teeth for farmers who can literally be robbed of their livelihood.

“In the meantime, more sheep and cattle are being killed, livelihoods damaged and reckless dog owners are walking away without punishment.”

In June, Ms Harper announced her intention to bring forward a consultation on a Members Bill to strengthen the legislation around livestock worrying and has since held public engagement events across Scotland hearing from farmers and interested stakeholders.

“The increase in livestock attacks over recent months and years is exactly why I decided to bring forward a consultation on a Members Bill in the Scottish Parliament, which aims to increase the penalties for those irresponsible dog owners who allow their dogs to worry and attack livestock,” explained Ms Harper. “I originally tried to strengthen the existing ‘Dogs: Protection of Livestock (1953) Act and the Control of Dogs Act (Scotland) (2010)’ but was advised it was necessary to bring forward a new Members Bill in order to do so.”

Replying to Mr Chapman directly, she stated: “I would politely remind Mr Chapman that I am delivering on my promise, and that good legislation takes time to bring forward. I want to ensure all views are heard in order to bring forward a meaningful change to the law which will benefit Scotland’s agricultural community, as well as anyone accessing the countryside, which I continue to support and encourage as long as it is done responsibly,” she stated.

“I would be happy to meet with Mr Chapman in order to take him through my proposal, as I have done with other colleagues from his party and others across chamber, and to show him the facts and research I have gathered – which shows that this consultation is absolutely necessary,” she added.

Ms Harper explained that the feedback she has received from farmers and stakeholders, including organisations such as Police Scotland, the National Sheep Association and the Scottish SPCA, will form the basis of the consultation, which she hopes will be ready to launch in early 2019.