26th January 2021

Scottish Ministers Consider Increased Penalties for Livestock Worrying Offences.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill (the “Bill”) was introduced to the Scottish Parliament by Emma Harper MSP and was debated on the 21st of January 2020. Scottish Ministers were 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.

As it stands, the offence of sheep worrying is covered by the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, which states that a person in charge of a dog is guilty of an offence if the dog worries sheep on agricultural land.

Livestock worrying has been an issue for farmers and landowners for some time however recent figures from Police Scotland show number of instances are on the rise, the period between 01 April 2019 – 31 March 2020 showed 265 reported incidents of livestock worrying. However, there is evidence to suggest that due to significant under-reporting the actual number of incidents is likely to be much higher.

The scope for reasonable access to farmland was widened by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. However, section 9 of the act specifies that access taken with a dog that is not under control is not considered responsible. There are growing concerns that due to the restrictions brought in by the COVID-19 legislation more members of the public taking their daily exercise on farmland which in turn leaves livestock vulnerable.

The Bill introduced by Emma Harper in May of 2020 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, farmed deer, horses and enclosed game birds

The Bill brings much needed modernisation to the offence of livestock worrying. For example, amending the list of dogs exempt from the legislation including dogs who are trained for a specific purpose (e.g. guide dogs) however only when performing their relevant role. Police dogs therefore will be exempt during the course of its duties, but not when exercised off duty.

If passed the Bill will recognise the long-awaited need for improved legislation on livestock worrying and hopefully provide much needed peace of mind for Farmers and members of the public alike.

If you need any advice regarding livestock worrying, please get in touch with the Blackadders Rural Team working in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, and across Scotland.

Fiona James
Solicitor
Rural Land & Business
Blackadders LLP

www.blackadders.co.uk

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