Following an increased number of reports of dogs attacking livestock and roaming free in the countryside, South Scotland MSP Emma Harper has urged the public to exercise caution and to ensure their dogs are kept under control when out exercising in the countryside or near farmland.

These calls come as more people are accessing outdoor areas with their dogs in light of the restrictions which have been put in place to help reduce the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The South Scotland MSP, who has a current Bill going through the Scottish Parliament which has the intention to increase penalties and strengthen the legislation associated with livestock worrying, has said that she is extremely concerned over reports of sheep being killed and injured at a time when ewes and their new-born lambs are particularly vulnerable.

She reiterated that those who are accessing the countryside with dogs need to be aware that there is still livestock in the fields and that their dog can and will attack them – particularly sheep.

Commenting, Ms Harper said:

“As a dog owner myself, I understand the need to get out and exercise your dogs. Reports suggest that people are walking and exercising their dogs, near farmland, as a result of the restrictions which have been put in place to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“However, I am extremely concerned by reports of livestock being attacked and killed by out of control dogs – particularly as this is currently lambing season and ewes and sheep are very vulnerable. I am therefore asking the public to exercise caution and to ensure their dogs are kept under close control when out in the countryside and don’t enter a field with livestock.

“I have a Members Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament which has the aim of increasing the penalties and strengthening the legislation around livestock worrying. This Bill, if passed, will give the offence of livestock worrying the status and importance it rightly deserves and will provide greater clarity to our legal service – the Police and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service – on how to appropriately deal with the offence.

“The advice from the National Farmers Union Scotland is clear – avoid fields with livestock where possible, keep your dog under control and please remember to pick up after them. Dog attacks can lead to serious injury and death to livestock; even being chased by a dog can lead to sheep aborting their lambs.

“If anyone is looking for any further information, or an update on my current Bill, please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time.”

Top tips for exercising your dog

NFU Mutual has created a coronavirus guide for exercise on farmland footpaths.

It asks dog walkers to:

Maintain social distancing when out in the countryside and consider others, including farmers and their families;

Avoid footpaths which go through farmyards or close to farmhouses;

Keep to footpaths, leave gates as you find them and don’t block gateways;

Always keep dogs on the lead when walking them in rural areas where livestock are kept;

Always clear up after your dog – their mess can spread disease;

Be aware that even small lap dogs can attack and kill farm animals;

Report attacks by dogs and sightings of dogs roaming the countryside to local farmers or the police;

Don’t let dogs loose in gardens adjoining livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs which escape and attack sheep grazing nearby.