by Deborah Hadfield
The Scottish Countryside Alliance is appealing to the Scottish government not to ignore its evidence during the passage of the Hunting with Dogs Bill.
The bill is making its way through committee stages at Holyrood.In its current form, it will have the greatest impact on landowners who rely on hounds to flush foxes from cover.
Jake Swindells, who is the Scottish Director of the SCA, gave evidence during the passage of the bill. He says the bill proposes two important changes for farmers, land managers and conservationists.
The first is the reduction of a pack of hounds to two hounds. He says: “You can only use two dogs to flush a fox from cover, to be able to be shot. If you want to use a pack, then you have to apply for a licence from the Scottish Government. This is really restrictive and could be potentially very damaging for both farmers and for conservationists.”
The second issue of contention is the licence system, which includes a 14-day licence for pest control to protect livestock and a two-year licence for work which qualifies as having ‘environmental benefits’. Jake says: “The 14-day license is not workable. It could be really damaging and really costly for the farming community and for conservationists as well.”
The Scottish government published the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland Bill) on 24 February 2022. It will repeal and replace the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. Despite approval of the original bill by organisations including the League Against Cruel Sports at the time, the League now says that it doesn’t work.
The new legislation will create an offence if a person ‘hunts a wild mammal using a dog’. The definition of ‘wild mammal’ will also change under the new law. Under the 2002 Act, rabbits and rodents were excluded but the new proposed law only excludes rats and mice.
Over the border in England, Tony Blair’s 2004 hunting ban excludes hares and mice, but not rats and rabbits. A Borders rabbit that crosses to Northumberland can be hunted, as can a Cumbrian mouse that crosses to Dumfries & Galloway.
The owner or occupier of land also commits an offence if he or she ‘knowingly causes or permits another person to hunt a wild mammal using a dog on that land’. The same applies to the owner of the dog if another person uses it hunt a wild mammal. The exceptions are to ‘search for, stalk or flush from cover a wild mammal, with the intention of killing it’ to prevent serious damage to livestock, woodland, crops or to prevent the spread of disease, or to protect human health. You can also use two dogs to retrieve a wild mammal that has been killed.
The bill is in the first stage of the committee. There are two sessions left where the Scottish government says it will listen to evidence. Next up are Police Scotland and the licensing team from the Scottish Government, Nature.Scot. These bodies will be in charge of enforcing the new legislation. The last evidence will be given by environment minister Mairi McAllen before the parliament’s summer recess.
Jake says these final sessions are key. He says: “It’s important that we get our message across. The biggest message we need to get across to the Scottish Government is that we need licenses to be workable and fair. Everybody needs to be able to use this license, whether you are a conservationist or a farmer trying to protect your lands.
“This needs to be a process that is open to everybody. So, we’re quite happy as a sector to work with the Scottish Government on creating this license.”
Jake emphasises how vital it is that the legislation is right for every stakeholder. He says the government needs to take notice of the advice of the working group to adapt the bill, so it is fair and financially viable for people who need dogs for their work. He says: “The working group we’ve put together has been very specifically designed to represent each individual sector within the rural industry. It’s key the Scottish Government work with us and listen to us to try to design this license that will work for everyone.”
He is concerned at the consequences if the government doesn’t co-operate. He says: “If they don’t listen and the licence isn’t workable many things will happen. Not least will be the decline in red listed species and the increase in predation on livestock.”
Once the bill has passed through of the first of the three stages it is expected to progress quickly towards the end of the year. It could be law by early in 2023.