‘Illogical’: plan to ban trail-hunting put forward in Scottish hunting bill

  • The Scottish Government’s move to tighten its hunting laws has been branded “illogical” and an “unjustified attack on rural Scotland” by campaigners.

    The Hunting with Dogs Bill was introduced to parliament in Scotland on 24 February, following a public consultation that ended in December 2021. This consultation had more than 11,000 responses, but the results and in-depth analysis have not yet been made public. These are expected later this year.

    Scotland’s environment minister Màiri McAllan said her aim is to close existing loopholes and “prevent others opening”.

    Hunting in Scotland comes under different laws to England and Wales. At present in Scotland, more than two hounds may still be used for flushing foxes to guns. But this new bill seeks to change this.

    It would also make trail-hunting illegal and adds significant red tape for packs. There is provision for the use of dogs to search for, stalk or flush a wild mammal in “specified circumstances”. For example, preventing serious damage to livestock, timber or crops, protecting human health or preventing spread of disease.

    A licence must be obtained for more than two dogs to be used, and applicants would have to demonstrate there were no satisfactory alternative methods of control available.

    The Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA) has warned any licensing scheme must be “workable and practical”.

    “Farmers and land managers across rural Scotland will understandably be asking why the Scottish Government is intent on compromising their livelihoods in direct contradiction to both the science and its own review [carried out by Lord Bonomy],” said SCA director Jake Swindells.

    Lord Bonomy’s review, published in 2016, found using packs of hounds to flush foxes to a gun remained “a significant pest control measure”. It also found restricting the number of dogs would “not be as effective as that done by a full pack of hounds” and imposing a restriction could “seriously compromise effective pest control in the country” (news, 1 December, 2016; 4 December, 2017).

    In his report, Lord Bonomy concluded that there were “aspects and features of the legislation which complicate unduly the detection, investigation and prosecution of alleged offences”.

    Mr Swindells added: “This legislation is an unnecessary and unjustified attack on rural Scotland. Depriving farmers of the ability to protect their livestock and their livelihoods would be a direct attack on their rights.

    “Restricting the ability of land managers to protect threatened species like curlew and capercaillie is equally illogical. The only way the damage done by these proposals can be mitigated is by ensuring that the proposed licensing scheme is workable, practical and open to all farmers and land managers who use packs of dogs as part of their fox control measures.”

    A spokesman for the National Farmers Union of Scotland stressed the need to maintain “effective, practical and pragmatic control of wild mammals, including foxes in a farming and crofting context”.

    He added that this is to prevent damage to livestock, crops, plants and habitats, limit the spread of disease, and reduce predation on protected wildlife species.

    Ms McAllan said that she wants to “make clear that chasing and killing a mammal with a dog, for sport or otherwise, has no place in modern Scotland – indeed it has been illegal for 20 years”.

    “I am seeking to close loopholes which have allowed that already illegal activity to persist, and my aim is to do that in a way that ensures the greatest possible animal welfare while facilitating legitimate predator control,” she said, adding that she also plans to take “pre-emptive action to prevent trail-hunting becoming established in Scotland in order to reduce the risk of wild mammals being killed by dogs.”

    “However, I should like to be clear, that foxes can cause significant harm to livestock, as well as other wildlife such as ground nesting birds – so it is important that farmers and land managers have access to control measures that are efficient and humane. This legislation provides that.”

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