Dog owners are being encouraged to take extra care around livestock when enjoying the great outdoors this spring.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is running a national radio and digital campaign, based on advice from the National Access Forum, to help dog owners to explore their local natural areas without disturbing vulnerable young animals during the lambing season.
The campaign was developed alongside Police Scotland, NFU Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates and The Kennel Club, and complements wider work being undertaken by the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime.
The key message is to keep dogs out of fields with young farm animals and on a short lead or close at heel when livestock are around. If cattle react aggressively, release your dog and take the shortest, safest route out of the field.
As part of the campaign, farmers have been sharing their personal stories, highlighting that as well as injury or death, livestock worrying can result in unseen distress and cause pregnant sheep to lose their lambs.
Alister Orr, 41, a farmer from Cumnock, East Ayrshire, said: “The sheep, especially at this time of year, are heavily pregnant, carrying anything between one and three lambs.
“Even the simplest thing, such as a dog running freely, is enough to disturb the ewes and cause them to run. The impact in a few minutes can be devastating.
“The countryside is a great place to be, I work in it every day and I love it to bits. It’s good for yourself, it’s good for your dogs, it’s good for your children. My advice for dog owners is that, for your own safety and for the protection of the livestock, be responsible and stick to the guidelines.”
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code website provides more information, including online video tutorials covering everything from teaching a dog to be relaxed around livestock through to dog walker etiquette and legal responsibilities.
Dog behaviourist and trainer Natalie Light said: “These videos are packed full of great tips that will give dog owners the information and skills to have fun and safe walks in Scotland’s outdoors as well as understand their rights and responsibilities under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
“I hope they encourage everyone to get involved and have the confidence to enjoy getting out and about with their pets this spring.”
Farmers and other land managers are also encouraged to support responsible access with dogs by following the guidance in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, for example by avoiding putting sheep close to lambing in fields with well-used routes, or indicating reasonable alternatives. If necessary, local access officers can also provide advice.