As you consider walking off the Christmas dinner through the beautiful Midlothian countryside with the dog, you may want to take a moment to think about the danger your pet could present to livestock in the area.
Park rangers say that in Penicuik alone over the last six weeks, there have been four separate incidents resulting in the death or severe injury of sheep.
The problems facing farmers losing sheep due to uncontrolled dogs is more serious than you think.
Shirley Cameron, of Woodhead Farm near Gorebridge, has had land next to Vogrie Park for two and a half years, and in that time she says she’s had ten sheep killed, ten injured, and two have gone missing.
“Once I lost three in one go,” she said. “A lot of people at Vogrie just let their dogs off the lead and the dogs just run straight for the sheep. Sometimes they chase them and sometimes they attack.
“One man called after seeing that some sheep had been attacked. I went down and saw some had been ripped apart.
She doesn’t use the field now as there are too many people who don’t have their dogs under control.
And Shirley explained that sheep could die even if the dogs didn’t bite. Just by chasing them, dogs can still cause deaths among the flock.
“Some people will say ‘it’s ok, my dog’s not biting them, he’s just playing, just chasing them’,” she said. “But what they don’t realise is that the sheep don’t see it as playing, they can die of shock and if they’re running around and getting wet then getting cold at night they can die of pneumonia.
“The dogs can present a danger even if they’re not biting. If a lamb dies that’s £120 I’ve lost. Not to mention vet bills.
“As they build more houses in Midlothian, there are more people coming here who are not used to the country and won’t know what to do.
“The dogs don’t know better, but the owners do. It’s instinct for the dogs to chase livestock, whether we’re talking about a cute wee thing or a big Doberman.”
Community Sergeant Michele Lindsay from Penicuik Police Station says that pet owners need to be careful and warns that offenders will be reported for prosecution.
“Livestock worrying is not just when a dog chases or attacks an animal, but can also be when a dog is in close proximity to livestock,” she said. “This can cause sheep to panic and flee, resulting in serious injury or death. As well as the distress and harm caused to the animals, these incidents have both a financial and emotional impact on the farmer that is completely avoidable.
“Dog owners have a responsibility to ensure they are in control of their dogs at all times and avoid fields with livestock, where possible. Where livestock are unavoidable, dogs should always be kept under close control, preferably on a short lead. Remember that even if they are usually very obedient, it’s every dog’s instinct to chase.
“It’s important that dog walkers prepare to meet livestock whenever they’re walking in the countryside, even if its routes they’ve travelled before as livestock tend to be moved with the seasons. Recent months have seen an increase in the number of livestock worrying incidents, with five reported since the beginning of November in the Penicuik, Roslin and Gorebridge areas.”
Farmers could also try and help, including talking to dog walkers if they have any concerns and putting up signs on the relevant gates, paths and entrances to warn of the presence of livestock.
Police officers will be carrying out rural patrols over the festive period and farmers could ask for advice if needed.
“Be assured that any incidents of livestock worrying will be robustly dealt with, and offenders reported to the Procurator Fiscal,” she added.
Penicuik Ranger Service said that while Penicuik Estate welcomed the public, it was a working farm.
“Sadly, over the last six weeks, we have had four separate incidents resulting in the death or severe injury of sheep,” a spokesperson said. “It is of great concern that we cannot graze our own livestock without fear that they will come to harm. We are urging people not only to keep their own dogs under control at all times, but to stay vigilant and report other people who do not.”
Kerry Clark, NFU Scotland’s Regional Manager for Lothians and Borders, said: “NFU Scotland strongly supports a robust approach to this issue, including prosecution of irresponsible dog owners. The worrying of sheep and other livestock by domestic dogs can have a very damaging impact on the livelihoods of farmers, as well as cause significant and unnecessary distress to the animals themselves.
“Anyone walking their dog in the countryside should ensure they are familiar with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and also ensure their dogs are adequately controlled.”