Late in the evening on 24 January 2023, the Scottish parliament voted to pass the Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Bill after a seven hour debate. The Act will make it illegal to flush out a wild animal with more than two dogs, effectively ending hunting with hounds as we know it. Campaigners have described it as a “landmark moment”.
The legislation replaces the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. There were many flaws in this law, so while hunting with dogs has been illegal for twenty years, Scottish hunters were able to exploit many loopholes. The new Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Act should tie up these loopholes.
Bob Elliot, CEO of Scottish animal rights charity OneKind, told Protect the Wild this morning:
“We are delighted that the Scottish Government has now consigned this archaic ‘pastime’ to Scotland’s history books. This Bill will also pre-emptively ban trail hunting in Scotland. Trail hunting continues to be used as a smokescreen that allows fox hunting to continue in England.”
While limiting the number of dogs that can flush out mammals to two isn’t ideal, it will, at least, provide tighter legislation against Scottish hunts, which use ‘flushing to guns’ as a smokescreen in order to carry out traditional fox hunting. Back in February 2022, the Hunt Saboteurs Association explained:
“Scottish fox hunts have never used the ‘smokescreen’ of trail hunting to evade the law. Instead, they have exploited the weakness of the 2002 Act by pretending to flush foxes to guns. In fact, gunmen are often not present or are simply used as ‘props’ to give the impression of legal activity – much like the absurd ‘trail layers’ seen at English and Welsh hunts.”
So, at least in theory, by preventing more than two hounds being used on the ground, the bill will put an end to the ‘flushing to guns’ hunting guise.
Pre-emptively banning trail hunting
After the bill was passed, Scotland’s Environment Minister Màiri McAllan announced:
“As well as closing existing loopholes, I am seeking to prevent others opening. We have seen from recent events south of the border, that trail hunting is sometimes being used as a cover for illegal hunting. We therefore plan 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.”
Indeed, the new legislation states that it is:
“an offence to engage or participate in trail hunting. Trail hunting is defined…as the activity in which a dog is directed to find and follow an animal–based scent which has been laid for that purpose.”
Pre-emptively banning trail hunting is essential because, without it, hunts could begin to use this as a smokescreen to hunt foxes, especially if the guise of ‘flushing to guns’ is no longer an option for them.
Section 12 of the Act does note that there are some exceptions to the trail hunting ban, but states:
“reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that any dog involved in the activity does not join with others to form a pack of more than two dogs.”
The Scottish government did, however, say that:
“Recognising that there is a need for predators such as foxes to be controlled in certain circumstances, the new Bill will allow dogs to be used to search for, stalk or flush a wild mammal, but only for specified purposes and if the activity meets the requirements in the Bill. These purposes include preventing serious damage to livestock, timber or crops, protecting human health or preventing the spread of disease.”
The government specifies that even in these circumstances, more than two dogs can only be used if a licence is applied for first.
Glasgow Hunt Sabs stated:
“Fox hunts in Scotland now need to apply for a strict licence to be able to hunt for just 14 days over a 6 month period. The licence will only be issued when all other avenues of so-called ‘pest’ control have been exhausted. Every hunt will also be under close scrutiny from the police, governing bodies and of course, hunt saboteurs.”
Meanwhile, Elliot told Protect The Wild:
“We do not support the new licensing scheme that will be introduced to allow persons to apply for a licence to use more than 2 dogs in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. There should not be any exceptions in the legislation to allow people to hunt a wild mammal using a dog. ”
Predictably, the Countryside Alliance responded to the news by using its usual ‘hunting is needed for conservation’ rhetoric. The Alliance’s Jake Swindells stated that the hunting industry needs “a workable licence to use more than two dogs, for conservation reasons and for protection of livestock.”
Birds of prey
Of course, the new Act has a number of flaws. The Scottish government listed a number of inhumane ways that people will still be able to kill wildlife in order to prevent “livestock damage”, and that they should try these methods before applying for a licence. It said:
“other solutions could include installing animal–proof fencing, translocation, shooting, lamping, snaring or using one or two dogs to flush the wild mammal to allow it to be shot or killed by a bird of prey.”
But the use of birds of prey to make a kill is no more humane than using hounds to chase, murder and tear up an animal.
Another flaw in the Act gives the pro-hunting Royal family protection from the new law. Protect the Wild previously wrote about how, under Section 25 of the Act, King Charles would be exempt from being under scrutiny, and makes him exempt from police investigation. This is because police won’t necessarily have permission to gain access to the land. Indeed, the Act’s explanatory notes state that:
“powers of entry…are exercisable in relation to Crown land only with the consent of the appropriate authority.”
Time will tell
While the new Act has a few flaws, it goes much further than any legislation south of the border in its aims to protect our wildlife. Of course, we will have to wait and see how the law plays out on the ground, and how it is policed. Glasgow Hunt Sabs said:
“As always, hunt sabs vote with their feet and the true testament of what this bill means will become apparent where it matters: in the field.”
There are ten registered foxhunting packs, and one mink-hunting pack, in Scotland. Time will tell how they will try to get around the new Act, or whether they will fold for good.
Huge effort – on the ground and in Parliament
It takes a monumental effort over a long period to change the law – on the ground, for example, by reporting how a law is being abused and exploited week after week, and in Parliament by providing (in this case) MSPs with updated information and briefings.
On the ground, fantastic work has been carried out over many years by sab groups. As the Hunt Saboteurs Association pointed out today
“Saboteurs in Scotland have worked tirelessly against hunts in the country. The Lanarkshire & Renfrewshire Hunt have recently borne the brunt of action by saboteurs, with our Glasgow and Edinburgh groups hitting them week in, week out. Scottish Borders Hunt Saboteurs have also been doing great work against the Berwickshire Hunt and the Duke of Buccleuch’s Hunt. The Fife Foxhounds have also suffered severe sabotage at the hands of our Perthshire and Grampian groups.”