A FIVE-MONTH campaign to highlight the severity of livestock attacks by dogs, was launched this week by the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, at a meeting near Penicuik.

Setting it apart from previous campaigns, SPARC aimed to deliver a stronger message to the public by using more powerful and emotive language via a series of nationwide events, campaign videos and social media interactions. It hoped to hammer home to dog owners the devastating emotional and financial impacts such incidents have on the farming community.

Chief Superintendent John Mackenzie said: “We have had an annual campaign about livestock worrying for a number of years now and the issue remains that over half of all cases go unreported.

“This is an opportunity to re-engage with the community and emphasise the need for people to report these incidents – so we can get a clearer understanding of the scale of the problem across Scotland.”

Gordon Johnstone, of NFU Mutual, explained that it had seen the number of incidents rise and the consequent impact on its claims bill: “From a farming point of view, there can be a huge amount of financial and emotional investment into breeding lines, which many of the public won’t be aware of.

“To them it isn’t out of the blue to see images of dogs herding sheep, so the severity of worrying might not hit home. Part of the problem around how the public have reacted to sheep worrying has been that they often don’t value sheep.”

MSP Emma Harper, who has been campaigning to bring about tighter legislation on livestock worrying, explained that this new campaign draws attention to other animals such as alpacas, llamas, horses and poultry.

This she hoped will help deliver a firmer message: “More people are farming camelids – alpacas and llamas – who are part of that family and will be included in the definition of livestock. People see them at agricultural shows and get to pat them at petting zoos – maybe that connection might help them identify more with the problem,” she said.

“It is harder for people to get their hands on a sheep, so this wider inclusion of other livestock could raise more awareness.”

The new campaign has promised to deliver a harder hitting message and she explains how the use of language will be key: “Some of the language we will be using is about attack, trauma, mauling, maiming, mutilation – very bold, strong words – but we need to use them.

“In the past, people knew what worrying meant, but really now we need to be using these stronger words to accompany these horrific images of sheep with their faces ripped off,” she stressed.

The increasing incidence of dog attacks on horses was raised at the meeting and Helene Mauchlen, from the British Horse Society, drew on her own experiences. She said: “In the last four years I have been involved with about seven really serious incidents where people have been hospitalised and horses have had to be put down afterwards or suffered terrible injuries.

“One horse galloped head on into traffic for two miles with a bull dog attached to each of its front legs – it was lucky to survive.”

She explained what the BHS has been doing to combat the problem: “We are working with the Forestry Commission, the Kennel Club and local dog trainers, holding dog familiarisation events where we introduce young dogs to quiet horses in a safe environment,” added Mrs Mauchlen.