POLICE have launched a crackdown on dangerous dogs to aid embittered hill farmers experiencing a spike in attacks on sheep.
In the Pentland Hills – where flocks have been weakened by the harsh winter weather which has starved them of food – one farmer lost 20 animals after they were chased to exhaustion near Threipmuir earlier this month.
There has also been a number of sheep killed in separate, unconnected dog attacks across the Lothians during lambing season, when most attacks are likely to occur.
To thwart the slaughter, special police quad bike patrols are now taking place on farmland on the Midlothian side of the Pentlands. The officers have been stopping and speaking to dog owners to remind them of their responsibilities.
But there are no police patrols on the Edinburgh side, where the number of sheep killed continues to rise.
Robert Barr, 55, who has a farm at Bonaly, said: “This year I have lost six sheep – two were killed directly by dogs. Over the past two weeks, three have been chased in to the reservoir at Torduff and drowned.
“Another one I’m pretty sure was killed by a dog because it’s guts had been ripped out.
“The number of attacks is on the increase because there’s more dog walkers these days and a lot them don’t respect the countryside.
“This year has been particularly bad for the sheep. With the bad weather they are very weak and the dogs are finding them easy prey.”
The Pentland Hills is home to more than 4000 sheep, with around 3000 lambs born at this time of year.
The Natural Heritage Service, which is responsible for the park, has put up signs advising users of the dangers of letting dogs off the lead near livestock. Voluntary rangers are handing out flyers to park users at weekends.
Countryside ranger Paula Bell said: “I’ve been working in the regional park for five years and the problem has been getting progressively worse.
“One of the problems is a lot of people expect to see sheep in a field – the regional park is open country.
“What we’re trying to do is raise awareness that these incidents happen on a daily basis.”
In November, Dalkeith farmer Mark Ross vowed to shoot dogs attacking his sheep after nine animals were killed.
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “We will continue to work alongside our colleagues at the Pentland Ranger Service and the farming community to protect livestock during the lambing season and throughout the rest of the year.”
Quad bike police set for Pentlands patrols
Specially trained police officers will patrol the Pentland Hills on £6000 Honda quad bikes.
The officers were sent on a three-day course to learn how to drive the powerful all terrain bikes and will have to go on annual refresher courses.
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Our officers carry out the patrols on quad bikes and undergo specialist training. Previous engagement with farmers on highlighted sheep attacks as a real concern.”