FARMING: Sheep and cattle-worrying incidents and the associated unnecessary suffering

By Bill Heaney

The lambing season is underway and now the government has been asked by Emma Harper MSP what action it is taking to support farmers to keep livestock safe, including in relation to promoting responsible countryside access.
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands Mairi Gougeon  told her: “The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021, which has been in force for over a year, provides Police Scotland and the courts with greater powers to deal with those who allow their dogs to worry, attack or kill livestock in Scotland’s countryside.

“Increasing awareness is a key factor in the prevention of livestock-worrying incidents and the associated unnecessary suffering. The Scottish outdoor access code is clear on the rights and responsibilities of land managers and those who exercise access rights, and it is widely publicised.

Caring for the safety and welfare of animals Christine Graham and Mairi Gougeon.

“More generally, the Scottish Government, in partnership with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has delivered a digital awareness-raising campaign to promote responsible dog ownership, which ran in early 2021 and was rerun during 2021-22.”

Ms Harper said: “As well as facing high costs due to the cost of living crisis and Brexit, farmers are still being financially and emotionally impacted by attacks on their livestock by out-of-control dogs.

“As the lambing season begins, will the cabinet secretary join me in again encouraging everyone, when enjoying Scotland’s beautiful countryside, to do it responsibly and follow the Scottish outdoor access code, keeping dogs under close control to prevent livestock from coming to harm?”

Mairi Gougeon told her this was an important matter – “because I do not think that we can emphasise enough the impact that it has on our farmers. That impact is financial but, importantly, it is emotional as well.

“I encourage everyone who wants to enjoy our beautiful countryside to follow the Scottish outdoor access code and keep their dogs under close control to prevent livestock from coming to harm.

Farmers in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll are appealing to dog owners to keep their animals under control during the lambing season which has just begun.

“The national access forum, which includes NatureScot, NFU Scotland, Police Scotland, the Scottish Kennel Club and Scottish Land & Estates, agreed that common high-level messaging for dog owners in 2020, and I know that NatureScot will employ it widely in the coming spring lambing season and throughout the rest of the year on its social media platforms as a key part of the on-going access code campaign activity.”

Her colleague Christine Grahame (SNP) asked about  introducing legislation in Scotland similar to the United Kingdom Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill. Animal Welfare Legislation.

Mairi Gougeon replied: “The Scottish Government takes animal welfare very seriously and remains committed to ensuring the highest standards in Scotland.”

And she spoke of her “extreme disappointment that the bill has been handled so poorly by the UK Government, which has ultimately left us with insufficient time to properly consider this important matter.”

Ms Gougeon added: “I remain absolutely committed to improving animal welfare and I am of course open to considering similar proposals to restrict the advertising in Scotland of unacceptable animal experiences abroad.

“However, that has to be done in a manner that respects the role of the Scottish Parliament and the other important animal welfare issues that the Scottish Government wants to address.”

Ms Grahame referred then to elephants – “The legislation refers to the use of animals such as Asian elephants for the entertainment of tourists. The cabinet secretary referenced her letter to me. Will she meet me and the chief executive of Save The Asian Elephants to see what measures the Scottish Government can take to help end exploitation of those magnificent beasts?”

Mairi Gougeon told her: “We are happy to have those discussions. The Government has reached out to stakeholders, and my officials met Duncan McNair and Peter Stevenson on Monday of this week to discuss the bill.

“As a result of that constructive engagement, I thank them and Save The Asian Elephants for their kind offer of assistance as we look to explore ways in which we can improve the welfare of not only elephants but all animals that are subject to low-welfare conditions.”

Top picture: Farmers tending their sheep at Glen Fruin between Helensburgh and Loch Lomond. Pictures by BILL HEANEY

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