AN SNP MSP will today take the next step in a Members’ Bill proposal to tackle incidents of dogs attacking livestock.

Emma Harper is to launch an online public consultation on the issue this morning, after several months of meetings with farmers, dog walkers and stakeholder organisations.

It is already an offence for a dog owner to allow their animal to worry livestock and local authorities have the power to issue dog control notices.

However, the Bill aims to give police, courts and potentially other agencies more powers to tackle such offences.

READ MORE: Why we must work together to ensure our countryside is a safe place

The MSP said that the move would help support Scottish farmers.

Figures published in August last year found a 67% rise in dog attacks on sheep over the previous two years in Scotland.

Harper, who represents South Scotland, said: “This issue is of the upmost importance to livestock farmers in Scotland.

“The consequences of an off lead dog in a field of livestock can be devastating and traumatic for both the farmer and their animals. My proposals seek to toughen the law and make sure that more dog owners are deterred from letting their dog off a lead in the countryside by introducing a range of penalties.”

The consultation on the Proposed Protection of Livestock (Scotland) Bill will last for 12 weeks before being brought in front of Holyrood as a potential Bill.

A five-month multi-agency campaign was launched by the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime earlier this year to raise awareness among dog owners of the laws around sheep worrying.

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In some cases in Scotland, farmers have the legal right to shoot a dog attacking their livestock.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has been clear we share the concerns expressed about incidents of livestock worrying and we are committing to facilitating all attempts to better address the issue.

“We welcome publication of this consultation as an important step in seeking views on improving how incidents of livestock worrying can be dealt with and we encourage people to respond to the proposals.

“Owning a dog carries with it responsibilities. As we move towards spring lambing season, all dog owners should be reminded that while it is right they can enjoy Scotland’s countryside, there is a need to keep their dogs under proper control to avoid incidents of livestock worrying taking place.”

The consultation’s launch event will include representatives from NFUS, as well as from the National Sheep Association, Scottish SPCA and Law Society of Scotland.

Andrew McCornick, NFU Scotland president, said: “Despite a vast amount of awareness raising, livestock worrying remains a blight on Scottish livestock farming. Dogs themselves are not to blame, it’s their irresponsible owners who need to wake up and understand the devastation this is causing.

“We are delighted to work with Emma Harper MSP on the launch of the consultation for the Members’ Bill and feel this is a real opportunity to clamp down on the issue once and for all.”

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn added: “We are pleased this is now at a stage where it is being looked at in Parliament.

“Our animal helpline, rescue officers and inspectors are regularly contacted regarding livestock attacks and we welcome the opportunity this consultation creates to reduce these potentially devastating incidents.”