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Scottish bill appears to ignore keepers’ evidence

Only two dogs can be used under the new law but a licensing system — endorsed by the SGA — will help conservationists and land managers

2KEYYGJ English Foxhound

The Scottish Parliament has passed the Hunting With Dogs Bill, with only Conservative MSPs voting against it. Under the new measures, the law on the use of dogs to control foxes in Scotland is to be significantly tightened. However, a worst-case scenario, in which conservationists were denied the use of vital tools, may have been averted. 

Legislation introduced in 2002, which banned traditional foxhunting, allowed exemptions for the use of packs of dogs to flush foxes to guns. This practice proved controversial, with campaigners claiming it was used as a cover to continue traditional hunting with hounds. 

An expert review led by Lord Bonomy recommended against limiting the number of dogs that could be used to flush foxes. He pointed out that using fewer hounds prolonged the pursuit and increased the stress experienced by foxes, while limiting the effectiveness of attempts to flush them.

However, the SNP government chose to ignore the Bonomy Review and instead has pushed through a two-dog limit for flushing foxes to guns. In upland areas of Scotland, particularly in large forestry blocks, gamekeepers and land managers are in broad agreement that lamping and using pairs of dogs is ineffective. 

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) fought a ferocious rearguard action to ensure a licensing system was developed that would allow the use of a pack of hounds where they were needed for conservation activities. Despite opposition to licensing from both the Greens and Scottish Labour, in a major win for the SGA a licensing system was included in the bill. 

In the updated legislation, restrictions have been introduced on terrier work, and trail hunting — which has never been practised in Scotland — has been banned, as has coursing of rabbits with dogs.

Efforts to outlaw all terrier work failed.

The situation of rough shooting remains unclear. Some readings of the legislation suggest that if more than two dogs are used and rabbits are flushed, an offence is being committed. However, government ministers argued that this was not the case. 

Retired gamekeeper and rough shooting enthusiast Eddie Kerlaw said: “I don’t know if, come next season, I will be able to take my dogs out for a day of rough shooting or not, but what I do know is that the government has created yet another route for activists to attack shooting.” 

The use of dogs to flush gamebirds is not affected by the legal changes.