A NEW campaign promoting responsible dog ownership in the Scottish countryside was launched this week by NFU Scotland.

With Covid-19 restrictions easing, farmers and crofters are acutely aware that a whole lot of people who bought dogs for company during lockdown are about to be set loose in the Scottish countryside.

Coming at a time when Scotland’s fields are full off heavily pregnant cows and ewes and large numbers of new-born lambs and calves, this influx of inexperienced dog walkers need trained in the realities of the countryside, and fast.

To that end, the union has prepared the #WalkiesWithoutWorries campaign, which in simple terms urges members of the public to:

• Keep dogs on a lead around sheep, and be aware that cattle can be dangerous;

• Choose alternative routes rather than fields of young calves or lambs;

• Pick up dog poo and dispose of it responsibly;

• Leave gates as they find them;

• Prevent dogs from disturbing local wildlife and ground-nesting birds.

NFU Scotland has also launched a web-based ‘Access Information Hub’ at https://www.nfus.org.uk/policy/campaigns/access-information-hub/dog-access.aspx

This has useful information, and downloadable resources including posters and infographics and signposting to useful access guidance. The site is interactive and includes a feature that encourages farmers and crofters to log any access issues that they are facing, including access taken with dogs.

Member feedback on https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/L8TRM95 will provide NFU Scotland with vital information to advocate for any change needed that protects farmers and crofters from issues caused by those acting irresponsibly while taking access.

Lanarkshire farmer Tom French, who chairs the NFUS legal and technical committee, said: “The Scottish Countryside is a beautiful working environment where many people want to go and enjoy themselves with their canine companions safely.People want to do the right thing in terms of not distressing farm animals and disturbing wildlife.

“The social media campaign #WalkiesWithoutWorries sets out five helpful messages to ensure that doggies and their owners have an enjoyable, safe and responsible time while respecting those living and working in the countryside and their livestock.

“We want to support the public, especially those who are new dog owners or new to the countryside, by giving clear messages so they can have #WalkieWithoutWorries," said Mr French. "We encourage our members and those working and living in the countryside to share the infographics on social media so that there is less likelihood of ‘worries’ for them.”

The Access Information Hub and #WalkiesWithoutWorries campaign is the brainchild of NFUS Ayrshire regional manager, Christine Cuthbertson, who said: “From speaking with our members, I was very aware of increased access being taken with dogs over the last 12 months. I wanted our farmers and crofters to have easy access to support and guidance via the Access Information Hub as well as helping dog owners to have a safe and enjoyable walk in our beautiful country.

“I am very fortunate to own a lovely dog Mishka. Having been brought up on a livestock farm, I was aware from a young age that you must respect farm animals, wildlife, and the environment. I realised that it would be helpful to dog owners new to the countryside to have some simple steps via #WalkiesWithoutWorries to help them and their wonderful canine companions keep safe and well.”