Dog owners in the Cairngorms are being urged to take extra care when walking their pets, as lambing time approaches.
As the national park authority points out this week, it’s a difficult enough period for the area’s farmers and crofters, from the long hours tending pregnant ewes and vulnerable new lambs to the challenges that the unpredictable Scottish weather can present.
So the added pressure and worry of attacks by dogs is the last thing they need.
David Clyne, recreation and access manager at the CNPA pointed out: "We’re a nation of dog lovers and having a dog can be very good for you – it encourages you to get out and be active, take in some fresh air and meet new people.
"While we all think our dogs would not wish any harm on another creature, at lambing time, we may not be fully aware of our dogs’ reaction to a fluffy white thing jumping around a lambing park.
"That is why it is best to have your dog on a short lead at all times, especially near farmland. Never let your dog off a lead where there could be pregnant ewes or newborn lambs – just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they are not round the next corner. Please continue to enjoy your daily dog walks just to do so with the utmost care."
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is very clear when it comes to the responsibilities that dog owners have, especially at this time of year when the fields are full of pregnant ewes or young lambs.
Local farmer Bruce McConachie – who is also a land management advisor at the CNPA said: "Dog owners are being reminded they must be careful with their pets around sheep and other livestock. Pregnant ewes and newborn lambs are extremely vulnerable and nervous at this time of year and should not be worried by dogs that have been allowed to run loose. The consequences can be devastating from miscarriage to injuries as a direct result of chasing or attacks by dogs that are not in control."
Just last month Police Scotland issued a warning to dog owners that their pet could be killed if it is found to be in the presence of sheep, even if it has not physically attacked them or chased them. The warning is part of a partnership campaign involving Police Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, National Farmers Union Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and the Kennel Club, to raise awareness among dog owners about the devastating effects of livestock worrying.
Inspector Jane Donaldson, Police Scotland’s rural crime co-ordinator said: "Livestock worrying can occur when a dog attacks, chases or in the case of sheep, is at large – not on a lead or otherwise under close control – in a field where livestock is kept. Our advice to dog owners exercising their dogs in the countryside is to ensure that they are under control at all times and avoid going into fields where livestock is grazing.
"Incidents of dog attacks on sheep increase during the lambing period and this campaign by CNPA supports our own partnership initiative that runs from February to June every year. We urge dog owners to remember that it is every dog’s instinct to chase and that simply chasing a sheep or a lamb in a field will cause it significant distress.
"Dog owners should also be aware that a farmer has the right to kill or injure any dog worrying their livestock, and no one wants to see sheep or someone’s family pet being killed or injured.
"Police Scotland encourages farmers and landowners to engage with dog walkers and to put signs up on gateways and on key roads and paths alerting them to the presence of sheep and lambs in their fields, and to report all incidents of livestock worrying to police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
"When incidents are reported, Police Scotland will enforce the existing legislation robustly, ensuring all reported cases of sheep worrying are thoroughly investigated and offenders reported to the Procurator Fiscal."