Legal and Technical Chairman's Blog - 12 April 2018

Livestock worrying, particularly incidents involving sheep, continues to be a blight on Scottish farming writes Linlithgow farmer Jamie Smart, chair of NFU Scotland’s Legal and Technical committee.

NFU Mutual estimates that the cost to the livestock sector in 2017 amounted to £1.6 million but not all cases will be insured, and the issue remains chronically under-reported.  As a result, the true cost to the industry of dog attacks is likely to be significantly higher than this figure.

NFUS has been supporting members at both a local and national level. Work carried out by our Regional Mangers and local secretaries has included providing signage, working on individual cases with Police Scotland and local authorities (access officers and dog wardens), while supporting awareness campaigns being run by National and Regional Parks.

Underpinning local work, NFUS has worked nationally in partnership with the Scottish National Heritage, Police Scotland, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and other stakeholders.

But despite the work already carried out, it persists, and the following must be tackled in 2018 if we are to make a difference.

  • Tackle the continued under reporting of attacks by farmers and the public
  • Address the fact that the sanctions levied on offenders can be less than the true cost to the farmer and, in many cases, the responsible person is unable to pay compensation orders
  • Some local police remain less than receptive to this issue as a ‘crime’
  • Difficulties in identifying individuals or dogs responsible, particularly where issues occur in remote areas
  • Prevent attacks caused by ‘latchkey dogs’ who live locally, or dogs who stray from gardens regularly

This is where the Scottish Farmer’s #takealead campaign can help by making inroads into the underpinning legislation.

At NFUS, we intend to submit a Freedom of Information request to each local authority to identify how many Dog Control Notices have been issued, to highlight their continued under-use as a method of control.

We will lobby for an update to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to provide that where taking access to land with sheep the public MUST have all dogs on a lead.
We will urge Police Scotland to adopt the use of DNA testing to prove a link between dogs carrying out attacks and the affected livestock, helping to underpin the prosecution process.

And, crucially, the underpinning legislation – both the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 - are out of date.  They must be updated to guarantee that sanctions handed to offenders offer full cost recovery and have fines that fully reflect the crimes. This will ensure that farmers receive adequate compensation but also deter dog owners from allowing their dogs to worry livestock.

No farmer wants to resort to shooting.  The Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 provides that where there are no other practicable means of ending a dog attack on livestock, it is a defence for the livestock keeper to kill the dog. This is a last resort option, and where this course of action is taken, it must be reported to Police Scotland within 48 hours of the incident.

Strengthening legislation and access codes will support responsible dog ownership, target and deter irresponsible owners and hopefully mean that the need to prosecute owners or shoot stray dogs becomes a rarity.

Author: Jamie B Smart

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