A CAMPAIGN has been launched in a bid to get dog walkers to keep their pets under control around livestock.

Renfrewshire police joined farmer Robert Crawford and his family on his farm in Bridge of Weir this week to launch the Renfrewshire and Inverclyde Livestock Worrying Campaign.

The campaign has been backed by the National Farmers’ Union, with local representative Keith Thom showing his support at the launch.

With the lambing season having arrived, officers are keen to highlight the dangers of letting dogs off the leash around animals such as sheep and cows.

Not having control of a dog can lead to them attacking animals as they try to run away, or the dogs can get hurt themselves as livestock become more protective of their young at this time of year.

There is also risk of farm animals contracting diseases from dog excrement, so owners are being urged not only to keep their dog on a lead, but also to clean up after it.

Mr Crawford lives on Botherickfield Farm with his family and owns almost 200 cows and 60 sheep.

Despite managing to escape any problems with livestock worrying so far, the 51-year-old said he is all too aware of how easily incidents can happen if dogs are not kept on a leash.

Mr Crawford said: “I have been very lucky not to have experienced livestock worrying, but I know people in neighbouring farms have.

“We have got a road next to us, Warlock Road, which a lot of dog walkers use. 

“Usually they are very responsible and I can’t really complain about them, but we just want to make sure people are more aware at this time of year especially, and that’s what the campaign is about.

“If a dog gets off a lead there are a lot of new calves about and cows can be very protective and become aggressive. There is potential for the dog or the owner to get seriously hurt.

“Also, if a dog is in among sheep, they can get very flighty and it’s a dog’s instinct to naturally chase after them. 

“It’s not the dog’s fault, it’s the owner’s fault, and we just need to make owners more aware of the risks.

“There are an awful lot of attacks happening across Scotland at the moment and it’s getting worse and worse.

“It’s just about keeping dogs on a lead and keeping your distance from livestock. 

“We obviously want people to go for walks in the country and it is a safe thing to do providing you know the risks.”

Officers in Renfrewshire have said reporting of rural crime has gone up by one third over the course of the last year.

But the police are still convinced there is plenty of crime going on which they are not being told about.

Sergeant Barry McNaught, who is based in Johnstone, said: “I think a lot of farmers think because of what they do and where they live this kind of thing is something they have to expect but we need them to know that should not be the case. These are crimes and we want to know about them.”

PC Eilidh O’Hanlon, who helped to launch the campaign on Monday, said: “This campaign is all about raising awareness of livestock worrying, which becomes more prevalent at this time of year.

“We want dog owners to be responsible by keeping their dogs under control and not allowing them to run about in fields. 

“Even if a field looks empty, there could be a sheep just round the corner.

“Farmers are within their rights to protect their livestock. 

“A dog does not have to attack livestock to frighten it, so even if a dog is just in a field disturbing the animals, a farmer would be within their rights to shoot the dog. 

“We want to encourage farmers to report rural crime to us as it is very under-reported at the moment.”

Alongside raising awareness around livestock worrying, police are keen to highlight plant and machinery theft on farms. 

Since last October, equipment worth more than £400,000 has been taken from farms across Renfrewshire and Inverclyde.

Sgt McNaught added: “The equipment which gets taken tends to be pretty expensive. 

“As well as plant and machinery theft, which can be things like JCBs and tractors, the theft of fuel such as oil, which is used to power some farmhouses, comes under rural crime, as well as the theft of red diesel.

“People are obviously reporting crimes more but we want to keep this going.”