CUMNOCK and Doon Valley dog-owners have been urged by The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) of Scotland to keep them on leads when out in the countryside.

The public letter from the union comes as cases of livestock worrying across Scotland reached a seven-year high - rising by more than a third last year to 179.

This prompted the union to renew its plea to dog owners to avoid fields with livestock, and keep dogs by their sides if out enjoying the countryside.

This doesn’t just protect the livestock, but the dogs as well because farmers are legally allowed to shoot animals that are harassing their livestock.

Figures for the region were slightly better than the national average but still increased by more than a quarter from the previous year.

As farmers and crofters enter a busy time of year for lambing and calving, the losses that are caused by livestock worrying can be devastating.

Jimmy Ireland of Feoch Farm, and NFU Scotland’s regional chairman for Ayrshire, has had an ongoing issue with dogs worrying sheep on his farm.

He said: “Sheep worrying continues to be a burden on us, and it is not just the financial losses we suffer, but the stress it can cause for sheep, and the time we have to take away from the day-to-day running of our business to deal with such cases.

“Those responsible just don’t realise the damage their dogs can do by being amongst livestock. It’s the one per cent who are being careless, and they are the ones that need to be educated.

"We need dog owners to be mindful of going into fields, not just at this time of year during lambing and calving, but throughout the year.

“I have been dealing with Police Scotland locally to push for prosecution for those responsible, but the issue continues to rear its ugly head time and again.”

NFU Scotland vice president, Gary Mitchell added: “The worrying of livestock can have devastating consequences for a farmer and their stock and as these statistics suggest, it is becoming an increasing problem.

“Sheep are particularly at risk during the spring lambing period and we need dog owners to take action to prevent livestock worrying. If their dog is found worrying livestock they could face prosecution, as we have seen with some cases that have gone to court recently.

“We are appealing to dog walkers to avoid fields where very young livestock, or heavily pregnant ewes are present, and if there is no alternative route, owners should keep their dogs on a lead and under close control or at heel.

“We also ask farmers and crofters to report instances to Police Scotland after they have occurred, taking photographic evidence where possible. Farmers who have an ongoing problem with individuals letting their dogs worry livestock are encouraged to contact their local authority to enforce a Dog Control Notice.”