Tougher penalties and better education about responsible dog ownership are needed to tackling the growing problem of livestock worrying.
That was the message from rural leaders giving evidence on proposed changes to livestock worrying legislation to Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity committee yesterday.
The committee was seeking views on a member’s bill put forward by South Scotland MSP Emma Harper.
The bill, which aims to strengthen and update the law in relation to livestock worrying, would extend the offence to cover additional types of farm animal, and rename the offence as that of “attacking or worrying livestock”.
The maximum penalty would be increased to a fine of £5,000 or six months’ imprisonment, and courts would be given powers to ban a convicted person from owning a dog or allowing their dog to go on agricultural land.
NFU Scotland vice-president Charlie Adam said incidents of livestock worrying were on the rise and not all cases were being reported.
He said introducing the threat of imprisonment could act as a better deterrent to irresponsible dog owners, as the threat of a fine was not enough.
National Sheep Association Scotland chairwoman Jen Craig agreed and said: “The penalties are very lenient and there is no incentive for people to ensure their dogs are under control.”
She said incidents of dog attacks were on the rise and occurring in all parts of Scotland from farms on the outskirts of towns to those in remote areas.
Scottish Crofting Federation chairwoman Yvonne White said education was needed to ensure people understood what responsible dog ownership and access to the countryside entailed.
She said: “Any new legislation must go hand in hand with an increase in education starting in schools.
“It’s not ideal addressing the issue after the event.”
Scottish Land & Estates’ head of policy Stephen Young said the existing legislation, which dates back to 1953, was out-dated and needed modernised to reflect changes to access rights and farming practices.
Mairi Gougeon, minister for rural affairs and natural environment, told the committee the Scottish Government backed the bill and, in particular, tougher penalties.
She said: “The livestock industry is vitally important and we need to make sure it’s properly protected.”