10. Prevention and mitigation measures
This chapter describes the different measures farmers have employed on their land to try and prevent attacks and how effective they perceive them to have been. It then explores priorities for wider initiatives to prevent attacks or mitigate their impact, including potential regulatory and legislative changes.
Measures employed to prevent dog attacks
The most commonly employed approach was talking to dog owners: 52% had done this to try to prevent attacks. Interviews with farmers indicated that this might include explaining the risks to sheep to owners who had let dogs off the lead in areas close to sheep, or alerting people to the fact it was the lambing period. Less commonly, farmers had used signage or moved sheep to a different area (Table 10.1).
The perceived effectiveness of measures was mixed. Those who felt the measures were effective tended to say they had been 'fairly' rather than 'very' effective and, for most measures, considerable minorities felt they had been ineffective.
Moving sheep to a different area was perceived to be most effective (72% of those who had done this thought it had been effective) but this is clearly time consuming and often may not be feasible.
Table 10.1 Measures employed to prevent dog attacks and perceived effectiveness
|% putting this in place||% thinking it has been effective||% thinking it has been ineffective|
|Talking to dog owners||52||61||32|
|Signs for dog owners/walkers to encourage responsible management of dogs||27||42||47|
|Moving sheep to a different area||22||72||19|
|Notices highlighting the lambing period||17||50||39|
Bases: % putting place, all (n=1931); % thinking it has been effective, all who had put the measure in place: talking to dog owners, n=1028; signs for dog owners, n=550; moving sheep, n=451; notices highlighting lambing, n=348
The qualitative research revealed a considerable amount of confusion among farmers about what signage was permissible in light of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (which farmers tended to refer to as the 'right to roam'), including confusion about whether they were allowed to put up signs and/or what they were allowed to say on those signs.
Measures employed to prevent wildlife attacks
Overall, shooting predators (used by 36% of farmers), working with local gamekeepers (34%) and moving sheep to different areas (28%) were the most commonly used measures to try to prevent wildlife attacks (Table 10.2).
Shooting foxes was seen as effective (91% thought it was effective), as was working with a local gamekeeper to control them (90%) and working with a fox control club (82%) - the last two will generally also involve shooting them.
However, as with the measures to prevent dog attacks, perceptions of the effectiveness of other measures was very mixed. Measures perceived as most effective against crows were working with a local gamekeeper (73%), shooting (64%) and traps (61%). For ravens, the most effective measures were thought to be shooting (60%), working with a local gamekeeper (56%) and moving sheep (50%). For badgers, it was moving sheep (54%), working with a local gamekeeper (46%) and additional fencing/barriers (31%).
Table 10.2 Measures employed to prevent wildlife attacks and perceived effectiveness
|% putting this in place / % targeted at each species||% thinking it has been effective||% thinking it has been ineffective||Bases|
|To prevent attacks by…||foxes||73||91||6||596|
|Working with a local gamekeeper||34||1931|
|To prevent attacks by…||foxes||83||90||7||667|
|To prevent attacks by…||foxes||52||56||35||278|
|Devices to scare/deter predators||19||1931|
|To prevent attacks by…||crows||51||33||60||186|
|Additional fencing/barriers to protect sheep||14||1931|
|To prevent attacks by…||foxes||62||52||37||177|
|To prevent attacks by…||crows||71||61||35||163|
|Working with a fox control club||9||1931|
|To prevent attacks by…||foxes||96||82||16||221|
Priorities for change
Mitigating dog attacks
Farmers were presented with a list of potential regulatory and legislative changes, and other initiatives, which have been suggested as ways to prevent attacks or mitigate their effects. For each, they were asked whether or not they thought it should be a priority (Figure 10.3). Almost all agreed that increasing public awareness/campaigns should be a priority (93%), that there should be greater penalties for failing to have a dog under control (92%) and there should be a requirement to keep dogs on leads within defined areas (90%). Seventy-three per cent would prioritise a requirement for dogs that have attacked or chased livestock and their owners to attend dog training classes. There was somewhat less support for greater provision of suitable spaces for off-lead exercise (49% thought this should be a priority).
Those with bigger flocks, those who had been sheep farming for a longer time, and those whose sheep had been attacked by dogs tended to be a little more likely to think these potential changes should be priorities.
Figure 10.1 % sheep farmers thinking each measure should be a priority to prevent dog attacks
Base: All (n=1931)
The first four of these measures were raised spontaneously by farmers in the qualitative research and there was strong support for all of them.
A dominant theme was the ignorance of some members of the public about the risk their dogs posed to sheep and how sheep can be affected by the presence of a strange dog. Farmers frequently referred to encounters with dog owners who assured them that their dog would never chase sheep or - when in the act of chasing them - that they were simply "playing". One recounted several instances of sheep on open land being driven for miles in front of walkers with dogs because the walkers did not understand that the sheep would keep moving as long as the dog was behind them.
A participant in the qualitative research suggested that all dog owners should be required to have insurance against any losses that their dog was responsible for.
There was a common view that the element of behaving responsibly in return for access rights had been forgotten and that those encouraging greater use of the countryside should have more concern for the potential impact.
"The people who are pushing the pathways, whether it's local council or local Heritage, Scottish National Heritage or Forestry or whoever is promoting access, I think have to take a bit more responsibility of what happens for the people they are putting up there".
(Sheep farmer, NE Scotland)
In addition to helping educate the public, there were specific suggestions that agencies should provide appropriate fencing and signage on popular routes and be responsible for their upkeep.
Preventing wildlife attacks
Farmers were also asked their views on potential measures for reducing wildlife attacks or mitigating their effects. There was generally a little less support for prioritising these measures than for the suggested ways of preventing dog attacks (Figure 10.4).
Again, those with bigger flocks, those who had been sheep farming for a longer time, and those whose sheep had been attacked by wildlife tended to be more likely to think these potential changes should be priorities. Farmers in Argyll & Bute were more likely than average to want increased powers to allow control of wildlife (82% compared with 73% overall). They, and those in Eileanan an Iar, were also more likely to prioritise enhanced compensation schemes for losses (71% compared with 61% overall), as were those who attributed their most recent attack to a white-tailed sea eagle (80% compared with 61% overall).
Figure 10.2 % of sheep farmers thinking each measure should be a priority to prevent or mitigate wildlife attacks
Increased powers to control the numbers of predatory species (the particular species varied depending on the area) was a major theme in the qualitative discussions. Farmers were keen to point out that they did not wish to eliminate species that were causing problems but to achieve what they would judge to be a better balance.
"Nobody wants to see badgers wiped off the face of the earth.
"Just too many of them, yes".
"A way of controlling them. All species, there needs to be a control, there needs to be a balance".
(Sheep farmers, Dumfries & Galloway)
There was a perception that the Scottish Government and other relevant agencies (Scottish Natural Heritage, in particular) either did not understand the scale and impact of the problems, or prioritised other interests. This led to a considerable amount of both frustration and cynicism.
"But, I feel we're up against it, I think that sea eagle gets through, the beaver has now got a protective status, we can't touch a badger, people, the general public like these things, and … [the] farming population is such a small vote winner, you know, there are only a few thousand of us, if we are all fed up and sick of it, well so what, we've gained a million votes by getting a sea eagle or a beaver. I think that's generally it.
(Sheep farmer, NE Scotland)
"The tourist pound is king".
(Sheep farmer, Highlands & Islands)
One participant suggested a government backed insurance scheme for farmers, to protect against both types of attacks, in which an individual's premium would not increase as a result of a claim.
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