Farmers are being warned to be sure they are on solid legal ground if they have to shoot dogs.
The cautionary advice came from the National Farmers Union Scotland this week following a number of cases of sheep worrying, including one recently in the Borders, after which one lamb had to be destroyed by a vet, several others needed treatment and a ewe had an ear ripped off in an attack near Sprouston.
It led to further calls, this time from the injured animals’ owners, the Redpath family, for dog owners to keep their pets on leads when near stock and to issue a warning that farmers are entitled to shoot dogs found worrying livestock.
With Borders fields packed with thousands of young spring lambs, it is a crucial time of year for many.
Last week a Police Scotland spokesperson told us: “Farmers have the right to take necessary precautions to protect their livestock.”
The legislation relating to this is contained in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock Act 1953), in which worrying is defined as attacking livestock; chasing livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or abortion or diminution in produce; or being at large, not otherwise under close control or on a lead, in a field or enclosure where there are sheep.
The Animals (Scotland) Act, 1987, is also relevant, in which it is stipulated that, in any civil proceedings against a person for killing or causing injury to an animal (i.e. a dog), it shall be a defence for that person to prove it was for the protection of any livestock and it was believed that there were no other practicable means of ending the attack.
However, a person must have a lawful excuse for shooting or injuring a dog, or they could face an offence of causing criminal damage.
And shooting a dog can also give rise to potential firearms and animal welfare issues.
Gemma Thomson, NFUS legal and technical policy manager, says farmers must ensure they have solid legal reasons for shooting a dog.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a farmer’s right to shoot a dog, more as a defence. But they have to be really careful and need to see the dog actually worrying stock – physically chasing or injuring stock,” she said this week.
“Shooting a dog should only be a last resort, because they (farmers) do risk possible ramifications from owner.”
Ms Thomson also warned dog owners to be careful, saying some may believe the access to the countryside legislation of 2003 means they can go where and when they like and allow their dogs to run free.
“Some people might think if their dog is chasing sheep, it’s just playing – but that would constitute worrying, even if the dog isn’t actually attacking the sheep.
“Farmers and landowners are also within their rights to put up notices requesting people to avoid fields containing young lambs.”