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Park Talk: Take care to protect livestock and wildlife

25th March 2021

By CNPA Board Member, John Kirk

I love this time of year. It is very busy for us farmers and crofters but I always think that Spring represents the start of new life whether its birds nesting, lambs in the fields or flowers poking through the ground. It is very important that we give all this new life the space and peace it requires to be able to survive and to thrive.

Therefore, I make a plea to everyone with a dog to please keep your dog on a lead at this time of year and into the summer months. Dogs that are allowed to run about off the path or into fields – albeit having the time of their lives – can cause untold harm to our vulnerable wildlife, particularly ground nesting birds like capercaillie and curlews and cause damage to farming businesses.

Dogs absolutely must be kept on leads or under very close control. It might seem to the dog owner that their pet is doing no harm but if it’s off the lead and running around in the bushes away from the path, it could be scattering ground nesting birds and chicks all over the place with no chance of them being reunited.

As for farm animals, firstly – it is a criminal offence to allow your dog to chase livestock. Secondly – a loose dog in a field of pregnant ewes and lambs can be costly for the dog owner who faces a fine or even losing their beloved pet. It is extremely costly for the farmer too. For example, if a ewe pregnant with triplets dies as the result of an attack by a dog, that is at least £600 lost to that farming business. Furthermore, being on farmland with a dog can be dangerous – cows are likely to charge if they think their young may come to harm. If you find yourself in this situation, always let go of your dog and get yourself to safety.

Dogs aside for a moment – anyone enjoying the countryside this spring should not interfere with lone lambs or wildlife like deer calves. I know everyone is very well intentioned but from my experience the mother is never very far away. If you are worried that an animal may be in distress or at risk, try to find the farmer or local gamekeeper rather than deal with it yourself.

Remember to shut all gates – or certainly leave them as you find them. And on the subject of gates, never park your car in such a way as to prevent access for land managers whether that be a farmer feeding livestock, a gamekeeper culling deer or maybe even the fire brigade trying to get to a wildfire. This is a constant frustration!

Finally, always take your rubbish home with you. Litter carelessly disposed of can be very harmful to both livestock and wildlife.

Nature has a great way of coping most of the time but we have a duty of care to our wildlife and farm animals here in the National Park to ensure we do everything we can to make life as easy as possible for them, especially at this time of year as they try to bring new life into this world.

For more advice on enjoying the countryside responsibly this Spring and Summer – with or without a dog – please do familiarise yourself with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code