THIS WEEK saw the launch of national and regional initiatives aimed at raising awareness of dog attacks on livestock and encouraging responsible dog ownership.

In Ayrshire, NFU Scotland’s local team, headed up by regional manager Christine Cuthbertson, met with Police Scotland and local farmer John Howie to launch their campaign. On March 4, Mr Howie’s pregnant flock of 45 sheep were attacked by a dog – inflicting unknown damage to the unborn lambs and leaving one ewe seriously injured.

Through a series of local events, the Ayrshire team plan to educate dog walkers on their responsibilities when walking on or near farmland. Mr Howie explained: “Most of our fields are next to towns and villages, and I have no doubt that if the person responsible had kept their pet under control then it would have prevented their dog from attacking my sheep.

“Please make sure your dog is on a lead when walking on farmland – even if you can’t see livestock they could just be over the hill or hidden in a dip. It’s not worth the risk, to you, your dog or the livestock."

At the same time, Scottish Natural Heritage is using a national radio and digital campaign to encourage dog owners to take extra care around livestock whilst enjoying the great outdoors this spring. Developed alongside Police Scotland, NFU Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates and The Kennel Club, SNH's effort complements wider work being undertaken by the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime.

As part of the campaign, farmers have been sharing their personal stories. Alister Orr from Cumnock explained the risks facing farmers during a vulnerable period such as lambing: “The sheep, especially at this time of year, are heavily pregnant, carrying anything between one and three lambs. Even the simplest thing, such as a dog running freely, is enough to disturb the ewes and cause them to run. The impact in a few minutes can be devastating,” he stressed.

“The countryside is a great place to be, I work in it every day and I love it to bits. It’s good for yourself, it’s good for your dogs, it’s good for your children. My advice for dog owners is that, for your own safety and for the protection of the livestock, be responsible and stick to the guidelines,” he urged.