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North-east dog walkers urged to be responsible in countryside

By Kyle Ritchie

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A call has been made by Aberdeenshire Council’s ranger service for dog owners to be responsible when visiting the countryside.

Dogs must be kept under proper control in rural areas and those that are not can become lost, injured or cause harm or injury to wildlife or livestock.

At this time of year fields and open countryside will often be home to pregnant ewes, and in the next few weeks will begin to see the first lambs.

Dogs that are not properly controlled can cause serious distress for ewes, pregnant ewes and lambs. This can result in the death of unborn lambs and death or injury to ewes and lambs.

In turn, this can lead to financial loss and distress for the farmer and others who must deal with the aftermath.

Dog owners have been urged to be careful of other animals when walking in the countryside.
Dog owners have been urged to be careful of other animals when walking in the countryside.

Aberdeenshire Council's ranger service co-ordinator Fiona Banks said: “Since last summer we’ve seen large numbers of new visitors to our countryside.

"We hope that people continue to enjoy visiting our countryside, and we know most of our new visitors want to be responsible and respect those living and working in these areas.

“However, they are perhaps unaware of devastating consequences to dogs, wildlife and livestock if they are not taking proper precautions, particularly if their pet is not used to the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside.”

A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare found that between 2013 and 2017 there were 1614 livestock reported as injured, and a further 1866 reported as being killed by a dog.

Allowing a dog to worry livestock is a criminal offence. If convicted, owners can be fined £1000 and given a compensation order. As an act of last resort, a farmer may shoot a dog worrying sheep or other livestock.

However, it is preventable. In areas where there may be livestock, a dog should be close at heel or on a short, under two metre, lead at all times.

Dog owners are advised to not enter a field with livestock and instead find another route. It is possible for sheep to become distressed if a dog is walking nearby, so they should be under close control anywhere near livestock, and never assume that drystone dykes or fences will keep a dog and the livestock apart.

In open countryside, keep a dog close or on a lead and away from the livestock.

Dog waste is not only unpleasant to find on a walk, but it can also spread disease to people, other pets, wildlife and livestock.

Pet owners are reminded to bag and bin all dog waste. If there are no bins available, or they are full, owners should take the waste away with them.

All food waste should also be taken away and livestock or horses should not be fed. Feeding them the wrong food can cause serious illness or death.

Outdoor access officer at Aberdeenshire Council Bridget Freeman said: “Please take care, especially at this time of year – stick to footpaths and avoid fields where calving and lambing take place.

“We want everyone – the public, farm/estate workers and animals – to be able to enjoy our beautiful local countryside during the pandemic, but people need to understand the importance of keeping their dogs under proper control around farm animals, never going into fields with young calves or lambs and giving a wide berth to our hard-working key workers."

NatureScot has produced a series of short films on responsible dog walking and dog training techniques which can be found at www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot

For advice and guidance on access rights and responsibilities contact ranger.service@aberdeenshire.gov.uk

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