Last week we blogged about MSPs voting to pass the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill. We celebrated it as the positive step it is for wild animal welfare, and what we hope will be an effective end to the ‘sport’ of fox hunting.

However, we also mentioned that there were some problems with the Bill and promised to write about them in more detail.

The good news

Fox in a field

Firstly, the good news. The two-dog limit will close the biggest of the much talked about ‘loopholes’ in the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. That law made chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs illegal, but still allowed using any number of dogs to ‘flush’ wild mammals out from cover to waiting guns to be shot, for reasons such as protecting ‘livestock’. After the 2002 Act came into force, some mounted hunts continued much as before, but carried guns so that they had a cover story that they were flushing to guns – knowing it would usually be very difficult for anybody to prove otherwise.

So, limiting the number of dogs allowed to two, now, should bring an end to mounted hunts going out for ‘sport’ and using flushing to guns as a cover story. However, there will be a licensing scheme that complicates matters slightly – more on that below.

The other excellent change the Bill brings is a ban on trail hunting. Trail hunting is when an animal-based scent, like fox urine, is laid out by a person beforehand and the hounds follow that trail, allowing the riders to have the hunting experience without harming any animals. Unfortunately, when the English law, the Hunting Act, came into force in 2004, hunts there started using trail hunting as a cover story and have been filmed hunting foxes as before. They couldn’t pretend they were flushing to guns in England as the Hunting Act had already brought in a two-dog limit.

So, there was a real worry here that the two-dog limit could have driven hunts in Scotland to start using trail hunting as a cover story, even though it isn’t something that currently happens here. Pre-emptively banning it in the Bill was a very wise choice by the Scottish Government.

The not so good news

Terrier dog with head inside hole in field


What we really wanted, and lobbied hard for, was a watertight ban, with no exceptions at all, even for the use of two dogs. Whilst limiting the number of dogs should end fox hunting by mounted hunts, we don’t agree with using dogs for ‘wildlife management’ either. So, we think there should have been no exceptions to the Bill. A few of them are particularly problematic.

We are extremely concerned about the exception that allows people to send a terrier underground to try to flush a fox out of their earth. This can lead to a fight where both animals get badly injured. We are also completely opposed to killing animals for sport, so the exception to use two dogs to flush animals to guns for sport is unacceptable.

One of the most discussed points in the Bill as it progressed through Parliament has been the licensing scheme, which will allow people to apply to use more than two dogs in exceptional circumstances, where it is perceived that no other method would be effective. We don’t agree with this scheme, but how harmful it might be for animal welfare will depend on the specifics – the devil is in the detail, as they say. Minister Mairi McAllan repeatedly said that getting a licence would be an ‘exception to an exception’ and only allowed as a last resort. We hope this will be the case and will keep working to that end.

Next steps

How the licensing scheme is developed and enforced will be crucial. If it is too easy to get a licence that could mean people continuing to use packs of dogs for hunting. The Scottish Government has made it clear that they don’t intend to let this happen, and we will work to try to influence the licensing scheme to be sure of it. We have already had a meeting with NatureScot, the licensing authority, and will keep a close eye on developments.

We have also been very disappointed with some of the discussions around this Bill, which have shown that many landowners and some MSPs still believe that ‘pest control’ is necessary and should never be impeded. We were very glad to hear the Minister say that she would not use the word ‘pest’ but unfortunately the word came up repeatedly in the debates and evidence sessions around this Bill.

It is time for Scotland to move beyond this outdated and harmful mentality and learn to co-exist with, and value, other species. Where interventions in their lives cannot be avoided, we must find better ways of doing so. It is not acceptable to sink into inertia and continue to rely on archaic methods that cause suffering just because alternatives are costly, inconvenient, or simply difficult to imagine. We can and must apply our innovative minds to envisioning approaches to problems that do not involve persecuting other animals.

Thankfully, the 7 principles for ethical wildlife ‘control’ continue to garner attention, both in Parliament and elsewhere. The 7 principles help create a pathway to a better future for our relationship with other animals and we will keep pushing for their uptake.