Amending Government legislation can be like turning an oil tanker around – slow, frustrating, sometimes impossible.
So toughening up livestock worrying legislation and giving police more powers to deal with dog attacks through the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill in England and Wales after years of campaigning by Farmers Guardian and partners has to be welcomed.
FG launched Take the Lead in 2014 after being inundated with calls from readers about the devastating numbers of attacks occurring around the country on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.
Since then FG has spread the Take the Lead message at public-facing events and on national and local television and radio, distributed educational leaflets, developed a Key Stage 3 module for teachers to be able to educate children about responsible behaviour in the countryside and handed out more than 100,000 red warning signs which have been nailed to fenceposts around Britain.
The campaign also prompted several spin-off initiatives from other organisations – all with the same aim of driving down dog attacks on livestock.
For too long, police have warned that the outdated legislation, outlined in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 was confusing, vague and not fit for purpose.
Even the most serious cases of livestock worrying were not required by the Home Office to be recorded by police.
But finally, in a move welcomed by police forces, the law has been strengthened to reflect the seriousness of livestock worrying; the blatant animal welfare issues, the emotional torment suffered by the farmer and the financial blow.
FG would like the Government to go further though, to increase the maximum fine from £1,000 to £40,000 or six months imprisonment in line with MSP Emma Harper’s Livestock Worrying Bill recently written into Scotland’s statute books and to enforce a clear rule of walking a dog on a lead around livestock.
Not only would harsher penalties act as a deterrent, but clearer rules would give farmers more clout and confidence when dealing with defiant members of the public walking on their land.