A timely reminder of what farmers and landowners should know about the new laws around livestock worrying

A timely reminder of what farmers and landowners should know about the new laws around livestock worrying

Scotland’s picturesque landscapes are home to thriving agricultural communities, where farmers and crofters raise livestock amid rolling hills and lush pastures. However, the idyllic scene can quickly turn grim when dogs, often unintentionally, cause harm to these animals. It can’t go unnoticed that there has been an increased coverage of dogs on the news lately with the banning of XL bullies and reports of vicious dog attacks by out-of-control dogs. With lambing season just around the corner, and the hopes of improved weather meaning more walks in the countryside, it is important for farmers and landowners to know what rights they have when it comes to livestock worrying.


In response to rising incidents of livestock attacks, the Scottish Parliament enacted the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021. Before the amendment, the original Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 provided some safeguards against livestock worrying. However, as incidents increased, it became evident that stronger measures were necessary to protect both livestock and livelihoods. The 2021 amendment aimed to strengthen and update the existing law, with an increase in penalties and additional powers for the investigation and enforcement of the existing offence of livestock worrying. Let’s explore what this legislation means for those who work the land.

Key provisions relevant to landowners and farmers

  1. Increased penalties: The amended legislation significantly raises penalties for offenses related to livestock worrying. Those found guilty of livestock worrying can now be fined up to £40,000 or will be sent to prison for up to 12 months, or both. If they are convicted of an offence, the court will also have the power to make an order to disqualify a person from owning or keeping a dog during such period as the court sees fit.
  2. Defining livestock worrying: The Act explicitly defines “livestock worrying.” This clarity ensures that landowners and farmers can identify incidents accurately. Whether it’s a dog chasing sheep or causing physical harm, the law now provides a clear framework.
  3. Additional investigative powers: The Act grants authorities the power to investigate incidents promptly. For landowners, this means that when they report an incident, law enforcement can take swift action. The ability to seize dogs suspected of worrying livestock is a crucial tool in protecting farm animals.
  4. Authorisation for entry and search: Landowners and farmers can now collaborate more effectively with law enforcement. If an incident occurs on their property, officials have the authority to enter premises, search for evidence, and take appropriate action.
  5. Educational outreach: The legislation encourages responsible dog ownership. For landowners, this means engaging with local communities, dog owners, and schools to raise awareness about the impact of dogs on livestock. Education is key to preventing future incidents.

What this means for landowners and farmers

The legislation provides some reassurance to landowners and farmers as knowing that stronger penalties exist for offenders can bring peace of mind. When an incident occurs, landowners can expect action from law enforcement and therefore, it is vital that landowners and farmers should report any livestock worrying incident to Police Scotland so appropriate action can be taken. Only when these incidents are reported can the evidence be collected, and the case thoroughly investigated. Collaborating with authorities helps build an understanding of the full extent of the livestock worrying issue which will ultimately contribute to the overall safety of livestock and farming communities.

While the legislation is a step in the right direction, challenges do remain. Continued efforts are needed to educate the public about responsible dog ownership and the importance of preventing livestock worrying, and authorities must actively enforce the law, ensuring consistent penalties for offenders.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 represents a significant milestone in safeguarding Scotland’s rural communities. By increasing penalties, granting additional powers, and promoting awareness, it aims to strike a balance between protecting livestock and respecting the rights of dog owners. As we move forward, continued vigilance and cooperation will be essential to ensure the successful implementation of this vital legislation.

How we can help

If you’re a farmer or a landowner and you have questions in relation to a livestock worrying incident, we’re here to help. Please contact Sarah Cheape or your usual Anderson Strathern contact if you’d benefit from specialist advice on this topic.

You may also be interested in the following resources:

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