Jamie Stewart: Giving up is not an option *H&H VIP*

Opinion

On 21 July 1999, Labour MSP Mike Watson announced plans to put forward a member’s bill in the Scottish Parliament to ban hunting with dogs in Scotland. After months of discussions and hours of parliamentary debate, the Labour-led Scottish Parliament passed the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) bill by 83 to 36, with five abstentions.

In the months immediately after the implementation of the act in 2002, designed to ban traditional fox hunting, only one of the country’s 10 MFHA-registered hunts disbanded. The others elected to work within the new legislation, offering a pest-control service to landowners and farmers.

The Scottish hunting community should be proud of their achievements. Having come through an all-encompassing campaign, they emerged bloodied but unbeaten.

Under the 2002 act it is legal to use an undetermined number of dogs to flush a fox from covert for it to then be shot, so long as this meets one or more of the exceptions relating to pest control — the uncontested mainstay of mounted fox control for 16 seasons. Somewhat ironically, evidence suggests three times as many foxes are now being killed due to the introduction of guns than before the new laws.

However, when David Cameron proposed to bring the law in England and Wales in line with Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP), despite their previous commitment not to vote on the Hunting Act — which only affects England and Wales — voted against the amendment, forcing the government to withdraw it.

Embarrassed by its own inconsistency, the SNP government in Edinburgh committed to review the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 to “ensure that it provided the necessary level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals, while at the same time allowing effective and humane control where necessary”. In December 2015, Lord Bonomy was appointed to lead the review.

Fully committed

While questioning the need for such a review, the Scottish Countryside Alliance fully committed to working with the Scottish government and Lord Bonomy, including the facilitation of full access to mounted foxhound operations. We cautiously welcomed the publication of the review, but were particularly pleased that Lord Bonomy recognised the importance of foxhound packs in pest control.

He found: “The use of packs of hounds to flush out foxes to be shot remains a significant pest control measure, both to control the general level of foxes in an area as well as to address particular problems affecting a farm or estate.”

He also rejected calls to reduce the number of dogs: “I am persuaded by the submissions and such other evidence as there is, in particular that of the experience of those who work with packs, the scientific study paper by Naylor and Knott (taking full account of its limitations and the criticisms made of it), and the fact that in England and Wales hunts do not generally flush to guns using two dogs, not only that searching and flushing by two dogs would not be as effective as that done by a full pack of hounds, but also that imposing such a restriction could seriously compromise effective pest control in the country, particularly on rough and hilly ground and in extensive areas of dense cover such as conifer woodlands…”

Driven by purpose

The scientific study that Lord Bonomy referenced was subsequently published in a peer-reviewed journal. It proves that using a pack of dogs to flush is much more effective than two, and that the period of pursuit is significantly decreased.

We were, therefore, more than a little disappointed on 9 January when rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon dismissed Lord Bonomy’s findings and the peer-reviewed research to announce the Scottish government’s intention to bring forward legislation to limit the number of dogs to two.

It is a policy that will “seriously compromise effective pest control in the country,” according to the their own independent review. Whatever the reasons, the Scottish government’s rejection of evidence and mainstream science undermines both evidence-based policy-making and the public interest.

The fact that we still have active foxhound packs in Scotland nearly 17 years after the original act was passed is testament to the determination of the hunting community.

The Scottish Countryside Alliance, along with its partner organisations and the many supporters in Scotland, will fight every inch of this new battle using every legal and political avenue available. Our endeavour is driven and fuelled by purpose. Giving up is not an option.

Ref Horse & Hound; 31 January 2019

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