DOGS could be shot in the presence of sheep, even they have not physically attached or chased them, warns the police.

A campaign launched this week by the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime to raise awareness amongst animal owners about the devastating effects of livestock worrying.

Inspector Jane Donaldson, rural crime co-ordinator at Police Scotland, said the initiative is being launched to coincide with the spring lambing period when sheep are at the greatest risk.

She added: “The vast majority of livestock worrying incidents involve sheep and can occur when a dog attacks, chases or in the case of sheep, is at large, not on a lead or otherwise under close control, in a field where livestock is kept.

“The devastating effects of a dog attack are evident and cannot be overstated, but significant damage can also be caused by a dog simply being present in a field.

“Pregnant ewes can abort their lambs or lambs can be separated from their mothers, causing distress and in some cases malnutrition.

“The advice to dog owners who live in rural areas or anyone walking and exercising their dogs in the countryside is to ensure they are under control at all times and avoid going into fields where livestock is grazing.

“The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says dogs shouldn’t be taken into fields where there are lambs or other young farm animals.”

Farmers and landowners are also being encouraged to engage with dog walkers and put signs up on gateways as well as key roads and paths to alert them to the presence of sheep in their fields.

Police Scotland reassured it will enforce existing legislation robustly and make sure all reported cases are investigated thoroughly.

The Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime launched in 2015 and includes members from police and emergency services, the National Farmers Union Scotland, Scottish Land and Estate, the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, the Scottish Government, the Kennel Club and more.

Katy Dickson, senior policy Officer at Scottish Land and Estates, said: "Our members fully support the partnership’s livestock worrying campaign.

“We are delighted to see the law being consistently and robustly reinforced by Police Scotland on this matter from media campaigns, to investigation, through to final prosecution.

“The impacts of livestock worrying are not always obvious, but they can be devastating to the animals, the farmer and the business.

“We urge responsible behaviour from anyone accessing rural areas where livestock may be present and for anyone witnessing such crime to report it.”