Scottish Ministers have been asked to consider proposals to increase penalties for livestock worrying offences, which include a five-fold increase in fines and a six-month prison sentence.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill (the Bill) was introduced to the Scottish Parliament by Emma Harper MSP on 14 May 2020, to update the existing law on livestock worrying.

Currently, the law is provided under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, which states that if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence.

The Bill introduced by Emma Harper seeks to strengthen enforcement powers and penalties for those who are convicted. In particular it proposes to: –

  • increase the maximum penalty of a fine from £1,000 to £5,000, or imprisonment for six months;
  • allow courts to ban a convicted person from owning a dog or allowing their dog to go on agricultural land, with currently no limit on the length of a ban;
  • give the police greater powers to investigate and enforce livestock worrying offences, including entering premises to identify a dog, seize it and collect evidence from it on examination by a vet;
  • allow other organisations to be given similar powers; and
  • extend the definition of “livestock” to include additional farmed animals, such as llamas, alpacas, farmed deer etc.

The issue of livestock worrying is by no means a new one for landowners and farmers. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 widened the scope of access to land. While that legislation provides for responsible access, and indeed specifies that access taken with a dog that is not under control is not responsible access (s9), it has nevertheless widened the occasion for livestock worrying events to occur through increased access to land.

This has been exemplified in recent times; concerns about COVID-19 restrictions leading to more members of the public taking their daily exercise on farmland, resulted in an increased focus on livestock worrying by industry bodies, such as the National Farmers Union for Scotland and the National Sheep Association.

However, the interim measures taken by the Scottish Government in relation to access to land, as reported by my colleague, Eilidh Paterson, in her recent blog has alleviated some concerns from landowners.

While work on the Bill started before social distancing measures came into play, it is hoped that the outlined measures, if enacted, will reduce the number of livestock worrying incidents.

The Bill seeks to modernise the concept of livestock worrying, or attacking, in a constructive manner. For example, it amends the list of dogs that are exempt from the legislation including dogs trained to assist people with epilepsy, but only when those dogs are performing their relevant role. A police dog therefore will be exempt during the course of its duties, but not when exercised off duty.

The Bill is at an early stage in the parliamentary process, but if passed, it will recognise the long awaited need for improved legislation to act as a deterrent to livestock worrying – and impose more serious penalties for incidents that do occur.