Hunting with dogs to be ‘effectively halted’ in Scotland

Minister reveals measures planned to close legal loopholes and prevent 'trail-hunting' north of the border

Stock image
Stock image

Jane Dalton

Scottish ministers are cracking down on hunting with hounds in moves that will effectively shut down the activity north of the border.

They have pledged to close loopholes in the law, including limiting to just two the number of dogs that can be used to hunt down a fox in hiding.

Measures are also being planned to ensure that “trail hunting” is not adopted north of the border.

Hunting foxes with dogs was banned in Scotland in 2002 but hunts across the UK can exploit an exemption called “flushing to guns”, which means letting hounds chase foxes out from cover such as woods into the open, to be shot by a marksman.

Until now Scottish hunts have had no restriction on how many dogs they can use, but the new steps will bring Scotland into line with England, where the limit is two.

In a statement to Holyrood on improving animal welfare, rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said a new bill would include pre-emptive measures to prevent “trail-hunting” becoming established in Scotland but did not clarify what the measures would be. 

In England, hunt packs devised “trail hunting” after hunting mammals with foxes became illegal in 2005. Monitors say it is commonly used as a cover, allowing fox-hunting to continue.

But Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg called the proposed legislation “another nail for important rural industries”, saying rural workers were being used as bargaining chips.

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“Reducing the ability to control foxes in forestry will be a disaster for wildlife and farm stock,” he warned.

Scotland has 10 registered hunt packs, mostly in the Borders region.

Ms Gougeon said the government would also implement most of the recommendations of the 2016 Bonomy review, which involve tighter curbs.

Lord Bonomy, who reviewed Scotland’s legislation on hunting, called for stronger regulation including developing a code of practice for hunts; exploring a new monitoring scheme; an extension to the time limit for bringing prosecutions, and the removal of inconsistencies in legislation.

In addition, a licensing scheme to allow the use of more than two dogs for “pest control” during flushing out could be set up, Ms Gougeon said.

The League Against Cruel Sports (Lacs) welcomed the announcement but warned that the licensing scheme could potentially create a new loophole.

And gamekeepers voiced concern, warning ministers that they would face a fierce backlash.

A Lacs spokeswoman told The Independent: “Everything that they’ve proposed will effectively stop hunting as we know it.

“However, a licensing scheme with an opt-out of the two-dog limit could potentially create a new loophole.

“We understand licences would be used in very exceptional circumstances, and licences could be revoked. But there’s no detail yet.”

Ms Gougeon said: “The welfare of animals in Scotland, whether domestic, farmed, or wild, is one of this government’s highest priorities and so, when it became apparent that legislation introduced in 2002 to protect foxes from unnecessary hunting wasn’t having the desired effect, we wanted to take firm action.”

A public consultation attracted nearly 19,000 responses, she said, and the measures would go beyond the rest of the UK in “protecting the welfare of our wild mammals”.

Lord Bonomy said in his report there was evidence that “the flushing from cover for pest control exception is a decoy for the continuation of some traditional hunting practices”.

SNP ministers also announced compulsory CCTV in abattoirs, under the raft of new animal-welfare measures revealed.

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