South Scotland

Moffat sheep races cancelled over licensing issue

Sheep racing Image copyright Michael McGurk
Image caption People have been urged to turn out despite the sheep races being cancelled

An annual sheep racing event in a south of Scotland town has been cancelled due to licensing issues.

More than 80,000 signatures had been gathered on a petition against the Moffat sheep races on Sunday.

Organisers said they had taken the decision to cancel with "deep regret".

They said Dumfries and Galloway Council had required that the animals be licensed in line with the Performing Animals Act 1925 which they were unwilling to do at short notice.

The local authority said it had not prevented the event from going ahead and it had been the organisers' choice.

A petition was launched earlier this year to have the races scrapped on grounds of animal cruelty.

'Fear and stress'

A statement from the Moffat Promotions Group said it was "very disappointed" by the lack of support from the council.

"The Moffat sheep races has become a firm fixture in the town's calendar over the last five years and was a hugely successful fun day for all of the family," it said.

"Furthermore, no objections and certainly no requests to apply this ancient act had been made until very recently.

"The council should have shown greater strength on this matter but instead created a situation where local organisers ended up backed into a corner which is hugely disappointing."

Image copyright Michael McGurk

The organisers said they would continue to look to "boost the town" and had initially planned to stage a Super Sunday replacement event.

However, they subsequently decided it was too short notice to organise alternative entertainment.

Campaigners succeeded in getting a similar event cancelled at a church fete in Cambridgeshire after gathering nearly 40,000 signatures.

This time around more than 80,000 people backed the online effort to stop the Scottish races taking place.

John Robins, from the charity Animal Concern, welcomed the decision to cancel the Moffat event.

"This is great news and I'm very glad the organisers have seen sense," he said.

"It might not seem very cruel but chasing sheep along town streets with thousands of people noisily cheering them on causes the animals fear and stress.

"I'm sure the good people of Moffat can come up with other ways to encourage visitors without subjecting animals to unnecessary suffering."

'Negative publicity'

A council statement said it had been working to try to ensure the races went ahead.

"It is widely recognised that this year's event has attracted a lot of negative publicity and attention from animal activists," it said.

"Our officers have been providing advice and meeting with the organisers for weeks.

"The organisers are required to place the event on a public register for such events and we have been working with the event organisers on this administrative process.

"This is not a council decision. This is the law."

It said organisers still had time to change their mind and hold the races.

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