Emma Harper, SNP MSP, is a dairy farmer’s daughter from Dumfries and Galloway and has been instrumental in toughening up Scottish laws around livestock worrying.
During the last debate of this session of the Scottish Parliament, which ended on March 24, the Dogs Protection of Livestock (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill was met with unanimous approval from all political parties as it glided through the last stage of the parliamentary process.
The updated legislation, which aims to raise awareness of the serious issue of out-of-control dogs attacking and killing livestock, will become law in Scotland in six months.
It is only a minority of people who do not access the outdoors in a responsible way. And exercising dogs off-lead around livestock can lead to devastating consequences.
I have worked worked tirelessly for more than four years to update the 68-years-old legislation which Police Scotland described ‘has not kept pace with evolving practices in the farming industry and does not provide sufficient deterrent that could influence an owner of a dog to act with greater responsibility’.
I am delighted with the outcome of stage three in the positive support, and that Scotland’s farmers will now have greater protection from attacks on their livestock by out-of-control dogs in the countryside, which can be both financially and emotionally devastating for farmers.
The Dogs Protection of Livestock Bill essentially includes an extension of the definition of ‘livestock’ to include breeds of animals which are now farmed in the UK which are not covered by the 1953 Act – such as llamas, alpacas and buffalo; stronger penalties for offenders including the potential for a £40,000 fine or 12 months in prison, or both; and greater powers for the police to seize a dog for the purposes of evidence gathering.
The Bill also provides the courts and legal services with greater legislative clarity as there are numerous acts that could apply to livestock worrying which can cause confusion.
The definition of what ‘worrying’ means has also been expanded to include ‘chase, attack and kill’, which helps clarify further that worrying is a serious offence and not just a dog having a ‘bit of a fun chase’.
Initially, I set about consulting with farmers and crofters to ensure the Bill was developed with a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
It meant those who have experienced upsetting incidents of livestock worrying and attacks could have their say and could make the legislation effective on the ground.
From the very beginning, I was intent on hearing the voices of local farmers.
We held face-to-face roundtable meetings in Parliament and across the south west of Scotland and engaged with colleagues by meeting farmers at the agricultural shows, including the Royal Highland Show, Turriff in Aberdeenshire and local cattle show events across Galloway.
It was vital for me to understand how incidents occurred and what the action and consequences were.
Responses to the consultation were impressive, with more than 600 fully completed and returned. The Bill has also gained interest from the Welsh Assembly and the House of Lords.
Evidence was scrutinised in the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, on which I sat.
I also engaged with the Non-Government Bills Team, key agricultural stakeholders including Scottish National Sheep Association and the Scottish National Farmers Union, the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, Police Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Outdoor Access Network, the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust, and welcomed these groups to our events in Holyrood.
Now all eyes in the UK are on Scotland with English, Welsh and Irish rural organisations calling out for similar livestock protections.
I am also exploring other actions to accompany the Bill, including the establishment of safe segregated dog exercise parks which have a proven track record for improving human peer-to-peer education and consequently improving dog behaviour.