Lack of understanding from dog-owning visitors is leading to the death of sheep and lambs on common grazings.
A crofter on Great Bernera has given examples of sheep lost by herself, and by others that she knows, as visiting dogs are allowed to run loose on areas of moorland which are part of common grazings.
Sallie Porteous, who raises sheep and uses their wool for weaving, told welovestornoway.com: “I lost my little sheep Bluebell, over a cliff into the sea, chased by two big dogs running loose. Someone else's ewe was separated from her twin lambs, who jumped into the sea to get to her, then drowned because they couldn't climb out.
“These people were told by a local person to put their dogs on a lead and couldn't see the need at all. We have had this trouble here in Bernera, and they have been going through the same thing in Scalpay.”
Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, if a dog worries sheep on agricultural land, the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence. Sheep worrying includes attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce, or being at large (not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.
Access rights under the Land Reform Act do not allow members of the public on to land with a dog which is not under proper control, and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code advises that you should not take your dog into a field where there are lambs. In open country, you should keep your dog on a short lead (two metres or shorter) when there are lambs around and keep away from them.
But Sallie believes too few island visitors understand these laws and guidelines, especially where there is croft land and open grazing. She said: “We think it is because a lot of visitors don't understand about crofting, common grazing, and the way things are run in the crofting counties.”
To help people act responsibly while on holiday in the Hebrides, she is taking direct action, with a notice to visitors, explaining the way that open land is used in the islands.
She said: “The wide open spaces that you walk across are not empty. They are the common grazings of local people where they pasture their sheep, the lambs and the cattle. Each village or township has areas of rough ground where their animals can forage about to supplement their diet. Please be aware of this and keep your dogs on a lead at all times and under control. Please remember this is not empty land.”