Many of us enjoy a bracing walk in the countryside
and have long benefitted from free access to rolling hills and glorious countryside.
We are fortunate that our farmers tend the land so that we, the general public, can roam freely and safely across the land.
Those of us with dogs can walk them for miles, thus benefitting from vast open spaces, which we are not lucky enough to possess ourselves.
Does this freedom, however, come at a cost to these farmers and their livestock?
In the past few years, there has been a startling rise in the number of livestock attacked and even killed by dogs.
In North Wales, the numbers are 500 in the past four years and, nationwide, the figure is a worrying 15,000 incidents a year.
It is not necessarily the case of vicious or out-of-control dogs, just irresponsible owners who are taking advantage of the farmers’ generosity in allowing them to walk across their land.
Let’s face it, dogs will run free and chase, but what is a game to them becomes a deadly battle for survival for the livestock.
Take a region like Lancashire, for example, where sheep-farming is prolific.
Every week, sheep are injured and the shock alone of being chased by dogs can be enough to kill them.
New-born lambs are found mutilated and sheep go missing, perhaps lying with horrific injuries for days on end until they are either found or die from the attack.
Farmers do have the right to protect their flock and are permitted to shoot any dog posing a threat to their animals and livelihood.
However, the laws protecting them are old and out-dated and some owners become defiant, threatening farmers who request them to keep their dog under control.
Animal Welfare measures, affecting the country, land and businesses, are looking into the possibility of closing down some public rights of way and are lobbying MP’s and parliament for support.
The Ramblers’ Association, by contrast, wants to keep the 140,000 miles of footpaths open to its members and argue that they should not be denied access to this land for the sake of a few irresponsible dog-owners.
Is there a compromise to be reached?
Suggestions include a traffic light system, whereby those areas requiring caution due to livestock around would be indicated by a red sign and free-roaming areas would be in green.
Other ideas would involve signs to divert dog-walkers to a different area, avoiding the livestock safely.
Of course, all of us enjoying the countryside need to abide by the Countryside Code:
keeping dogs under control and leaving gates as you find them
but this is open to goodwill and is not necessarily enforceable nor enforced.
All of which brings us back to the rule of law:
what can be done to improve the situation and keep both sides of the argue placated?
A move to modernise laws dating back to the 19th century would be a good start!
Local groups are working together with the NFU to come up with sensible adjustments to the three existing laws in place and to increase sentencing powers, such as:
giving out fines
using police evidence in court
and extending the law to cover a wider range of livestock.
We can only hope that public awareness of the plight of livestock will encourage dog-walkers to be considerate and responsible each and every time they open that farmer’s gate to walk through a field.
Come on dog owners of which I am one….keep them on the lead when in the countryside!