Livestock Worrying

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 29 February 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

4. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the latest reported figures highlighting the impact of livestock worrying in Scotland. (S6F-02874)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The worrying of livestock by dogs is completely unacceptable. The Scottish Government takes that very seriously, recognising the very serious welfare and financial impacts that livestock worrying can have. The figures that have been reported indicate that there are still individuals who do not recognise their responsibilities as dog owners and allow their dogs to chase livestock. Of course, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

We welcomed the introduction of Emma Harper’s Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into force on 5 November 2021, and I thank Ms Harper for her continued efforts in this area. Education is a key factor in the prevention of livestock worrying incidents, and the Scottish outdoor access code, which is widely published, is clear on the rights and responsibilities of land managers and those exercising access rights.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 has proved successful in raising awareness of livestock attacks and livestock worrying and in encouraging farmers to have the confidence to report livestock worrying incidents. However, NFU Mutual’s latest report on rural crime shows that livestock worrying reports are increasing. Stakeholders including NFU Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates have called for a change to the outdoor access code to mandate that dogs be kept on leads when in fields where livestock is present. Will the First Minister comment on how the Government can continue to raise awareness of my livestock worrying act and on whether it will consider making such an amendment to the Scottish outdoor access code as part of the upcoming land reform bill?

The First Minister:

All the points that Emma Harper has made are well worthy of consideration. She is absolutely right to highlight the difference that has been made by the legislation that this Parliament enacted on livestock worrying, thanks mainly to her efforts in introducing the bill and guiding it into law. It is interesting to note that only now is the United Kingdom Government proposing to legislate similarly to cover England.

We continue to work with partners to increase awareness of dog owners’ responsibilities under the livestock worrying act, including through NatureScot’s traditional media and social media activity on responsible dog walking. I have asked the Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity to consider what more we might do to raise awareness and encourage more responsible ownership and owner behaviour, especially at times such as the lambing season.

I note that some people would wish us to review the access code, as Emma Harper has said, and we will give that consideration. However, we can be rightly proud in Scotland that we have among the most open access to our land anywhere. As a nation, we want that to continue. Closing off the countryside is not the answer, and it is certainly not what Emma Harper is suggesting. We want to encourage more people to follow and adhere to the Scottish outdoor access code, especially in relation to responsible dog walking.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

The devastating cost of dog attacks on livestock has doubled in Scotland since 2022. It is causing harm and distress to animals and financial hardship to farmers. The legislation really is not working, is it?

The First Minister:

There are a number of reasons why the number of incidents has risen. Rachael Hamilton is suggesting that the legislation is not working, yet the UK Government is looking to legislate for England in a very similar manner. We are happy to share any information with the UK Government on the legislation that we have introduced.

We have to ensure that more is done to raise awareness of responsible dog walking right across the year and especially during particular seasons such as the lambing season. Rachael Hamilton is right. The impacts of livestock worrying are significant. They are often traumatic to farmers and, indeed, to livestock, and they also cause significant financial hardship. That is why we will do what we can to tackle livestock worrying wherever it happens in Scotland.