Scotland’s hunting with dogs disaster

by Deborah Hadfield

The League Against Cruel Sports has introduced a Hunting with Dogs bill for Scotland to replace the law it wrote in 2002. LACS now says its 2002 law has failed.

The Scottish Countryside Alliance says the new rules have many of the same poblems as the old rules. It says the Scottish government risks compromising farmer’s livelihoods with the new legislation.

SCA director Jake Swindells says he is disappointed with the introduction of the legislation. He says: “As far as we’re concerned, the Scottish government is legislating something that really doesn’t need to be legislated for – especially with everything else that’s going on in the world.

“There are far more important things introducing legislation that really is unnecessary at this point in time.”

The SCA says the Scottish government is ignoring its own independent review conducted by  Lord Bonomy. Mr Swindells says: “He’s clearly stated a number of factors in that report that have been completely ignored as well. So not only is this legislation unnecessary, but it is also ridiculously inaccurate. And when it comes to being peer-reviewed and evidenced … I think the major impact this could have is on fox welfare.’

The SCA is concerned that the new hunting with dogs bill deprives people of the right to protect livestock. The new law says no more than two dogs can be used to flush animals such as foxes or hares unless the Scottish government grants a licence. Mr Swindells says: “Farmers and land managers are going to be the ones to suffer. This is not designed with farmers and land managers in mind. This is basically the Scottish government giving in to pressure under the guise that this is all about fox welfare. So, the community is going to suffer the loss of the economic benefits of the hunts as well.”

According to LACS’ new rules, which the Scottish government are keen to adopt, predators can only be controlled in certain circumstances. For example they can be shot to prevent damage to livestock, timber, or  crops.

There is also a ban on trail hunting, though no clear definition of what LACS considers trail hunting to be. The SCA says restrictions on the use of dogs to control foxes are an unnecessary and unjustified attack on rural Scotland.

Mr Swindells says the Scottish government ploughs taxpayers’ cash into conservation each year. “Red list species are going to suffer if you don’t hunt foxes and fox populations aren’t controlled,” he says. “The Scottish Government is effectively putting money into conservation and then shooting themselves in the foot by not allowing people to do the job and to manage land how it should be managed.”

The capercaillie is one of the birds that could be under threat. Mr Swindells says: “The capercaillie has been red-listed and on the radar for some time. Only last week, the GWCT [Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust] put out a report that stated that the capercaillie, correctly, should be protected even further. And they went on to specify that there should be more effective predator control.

“By making hunting much harder to do with packs of dogs, then they’re effectively going against their own targets and that of the likes of the GWCT.”

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association backs up this view. SGA chairman Alex Hogg says that a licensing system, permitting the use of a foot pack for specific circumstances, must be flexible and workable. He says: “Any licensing system must be workable for land management professionals. Lamb loss has financial and mental health implications. Land managers need help to stem the the downward spiral in upland bird species. It is fact, not conjecture, the fox is one of the biggest predators of ground-nesting species and needs to be managed humanely. When it comes to the curlew, for example, we are facing possible extinction. The capercaillie, too.

“Chucking away good tools to avoid such scenarios would be short-sighted and well trained scenting dogs are the best and most humane tool in forested upland environments.”

The SCA wants the government to collaborate with farmers and landowners.  Mr Swindells says: “If there has to be a license [fo predato control], which it appears there does, and I don’t think there’s any getting away from that now, it has to be a workable and practical license. The Scottish Government have to engage land managers, they have to engage farmers, they have got to take the peer reviewed evidence that’s been done before and now they’ve got to listen to Lord Bonomy.

“This is their own commissioned independent report from Lord Bonomy that they have completely ignored. The environment minister Màiri McAllan, in her most recent question in parliament over this, not once made reference to the Bonomy Report. She referred to the fact that the Scottish Government had consulted widely, which they had, but not once had she mentioned that they’d completely ignored virtually every aspect of Lord Bonomy’s report, that they commissioned themselves.”

Mr Swindells does not believe the proposal for a 14-day licence is viable. He says: “It’s a complete joke, and it’s not workable, it’s not practical, it’s not sustainable. For instance, SNH are likely going to be the licensing body for it and so, if we have an option of a 14-day licence for a particular hunt or a particular area, then imagine the paperwork that SNH is going to have to put up with.

“Our hunt might have 40 days hunting per year or 20 days hunting per year. They are 20 separate applications. This process might need to happen in a hurry as there might be a particular issue in a particular area that needs to be dealt with. Going through three- or four-weeks’ worth of licensing process is going to be seriously detrimental to the farmers and land managers. The amount of damage that can be done within that time will be catastrophic.”

The SCA believes the Scottish Government needs to support the farming and hunting sports. Mr Swindells says: “They’ve got to work with the farmers, and they’ve got to work with the land managers. They have to have a better understanding of what happens and how and land management happens in reality.

“They seem very removed from this and it seems like there is a lot of give under pressure, either from the Scottish Greens, for instance, or public opinion. Largely the public opinion is misguided because a lot of people don’t understand how the rural sector works and how land management works.

“The farmer is really going to be the one that suffers the most through this, and this is meant to be legislation that protects the welfare of the fox and that protects the welfare of the whole community. The farmers will suffer financially because of losses to stock. Their mental health will suffer. If fox populations cannot be controlled in this way, then the farmer will have no choice but to be out shooting foxes later. That takes away from family time and that is extending the working day. That is really going to be detrimental for the mental health, not to mention the stress and the worry of knowing that there is a potential issue out there and not being able to protect your livelihood. It’s not just a financial or welfare issue we need to look at the bigger picture.”

Mr Swindells is appealing to the Scottish Government to work with the SCA. He says: “We have set up a working group and we have got most of the rural stakeholder organisations as part of. I will offer our services to the Scottish Government and Màiri McAllan will get an invite to come and sit in on the meeting and work with us. Hopefully, we can find a workable and practical way forward with the use of the working group.”

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