The banning of all non-working dogs from hill and commonage ground frequented by walkers and other recreational users is being called for by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).
The proposal will be included in a policy paper on access to the hills and commonages which is being drafted by the farming body. The policy paper is informed by the findings of a survey of close to 200 farmers which was recently conducted by the INHFA.
The survey identified dog control as a key concern for landowners. INHFA vice-president Pheilim Molloy said that more than 40% of the farmers who took part in the survey identified dog control as a “major issue”.
The survey found that 83% of farmers said that leisure users accessing their properties have brought dogs with them.
A startling 61% of respondents said that they had been in situations where leisure users refused to comply when asked not to bring dogs onto farmers’ lands.
“The survey has confirmed what we have been hearing from members for well over a year. Dog control, insurance and respect for farmers’ property and the goodwill they are providing, these are issues that must now be addressed,” Molloy said
“The INHFA is currently drafting a policy paper around public access that is going to call for legislation to ban non-working dogs from our upland spaces,” he said.
The survey also found that 38% of respondents had felt threatened during interactions with recreational users of their lands, while over 40% of those surveyed had received abuse during encounters with the public.
The problems highlighted in the INHFA survey tallied with the recent experience of Mayo hill farmer Peter Tunney.
Tunney, who farms at Erriff between Leenane and Westport, had two lambs killed by dogs last week.
He was on the hills at the time and saw the dogs chasing the lambs but he was unable to prevent the attack.
However, the farmer insisted that the owner of the dogs was also present and had been able to get the two animals back under control and off his lands before he had arrived on the scene.
“I saw two fairly big black dogs chasing the lambs. By the time I got over the mountain I just saw a person disappear with the two dogs,” he said.
The two lambs had been badly ripped on their hind quarters; one died straight away, while the other died an hour later.
This is the first definite case of a dog attack that Tunney’s flock has suffered.
“It was just terrible, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
The fact that the dog owner’s only concern was to save his two pets added to his anger, Tunney said.