Bid to close loopholes in Scotland's law banning hunting with dogs

A Bill has been introduced which seeks to make the law clearer and close loopholes.

Scottish Government seeks to close loopholes in law which bans packs of dogs hunting wild mammals iStock
Under current law, brought in in 2002, hunting animals with hounds is effectively banned in Scotland.

Ministers have pledged to close the loopholes which have allowed the illegal hunting of animals with packs of dogs to continue in Scotland.

A Bill has been introduced at the Scottish Parliament which would seek to make the law clearer on the practice.

The Scottish Government, which has introduced the Bill, indicate that it will replace existing legislation and will close existing loopholes, as well as preventing news ones from being opened up.

Under current law, brought in in 2002, hunting animals with dogs is effectively banned in Scotland.

However, it does not entirely ban the use of dogs, despite including significant restrictions.

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 still allows the limited use of dogs in certain situations, including the protection of livestock, protecting human health, and preventing the spread of disease.

Proposals to strengthen the law were set out by the Scottish Government in 2019, with views sought as part of a consultation.

The government has explained that 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.

Certain conditions must also be met when using dogs for the permitted purposes.

Those include, for example, using no more than two dogs unless a licence has been granted, keeping any dog used under control, and obtaining permission from the land owner or the person who manages or controls the use of that land.

The Bill will also include new provisions to ban the activity of ‘trail hunting’ which can pose a risk to wild mammals.

Environment minister Màiri McAllan insisted her aim is to ensure the “greatest possible” animal welfare.

“I want to make clear that chasing and killing a mammal with a dog, for sport or otherwise, has no place in modern Scotland – indeed it has been illegal for 20 years,” she said.

“I am seeking to close loopholes which have allowed that already illegal activity to persist, and my aim is to do that in a way that ensures the greatest possible animal welfare while facilitating legitimate predator control.

“As well as closing existing loopholes, I am seeking to prevent others opening.”

McAllan also outlined the government’s aim to take “pre-emptive action” in a bid to prevent trail hunting.

“We have seen from recent events south of the border, that trail hunting is sometimes being used as a cover for illegal hunting,” she explained.

“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.

“However, I should like to be clear, that foxes can cause significant harm to livestock, as well as other wildlife such as ground nesting birds – so it is important that farmers and land managers have access to control measures that are efficient and humane. This legislation provides that.”

The minister added: “We consulted widely on our proposals and our public consultation received over 11,000 responses from a range of organisations and groups, as well as members of the public.

“We carefully considered the views of stakeholders and the public when developing the new legislation which I am confident is both progressive and balanced.”

The Bill was supported by the director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, Robbie Marsland. 

“The league fully supports the intention behind the new Bill and we look forward to seeing it in detail and working with the Scottish Government as it progresses through parliament with full scrutiny,” he said.

“After 20 years of flawed legislation it is critical that this Bill addresses the need to reduce the pack of hounds to just two, and takes pre-emptive action to prevent trail hunting being established as a new ‘sport’ in Scotland.  

“We want to see a Bill that really bans hunting and doesn’t contain new loopholes for hunters to exploit.” 

However, the Scottish Greens have warned that the Bill may fail to stop foxhunting in Scotland in its current form.

And they have indicated that they will only back the legislation if it delivers a “watertight” ban on foxhunting.

The party’s spokesperson for rural affairs, Ariane Burgess, said: “Most people think fox hunting is already banned in Scotland, but loopholes in the law mean that hunting continues much as it did.

“Sadly, in its current form this bill closes one loophole while risks opening another so that this bloodthirsty practice can continue.

“Polls have repeatedly shown that the public back an outright ban, yet the Scottish Government continues to tinker around the edges.

“That’s why blood sports remain an area excluded from the Bute House Agreement and why this bill will need to deliver a real watertight ban if it is to get the backing of Scottish Green MSPs.”