FOX hunts have been accused of endangering pregnant ewes, despite a new police campaign to stop sheep worrying.
Undercover footage shows a number of Scottish hunts riding with packs of hounds through the countryside, scattering flocks in terror.
Sheep worrying is an offence in Scotland but the law allows an exemption for fox hunts’ hounds to be at large, if they are hunting legally.
The League Against Cruel Sports secretly recorded 20 incidents of hunts in fields with sheep, dating back to 2015, and is calling for the law to be reviewed.
The hunts say they act within the law at all times.
Police Scotland’s new campaign coincides with the spring lambing season to prevent livestock worrying.
The campaign says “significant damage” can be caused by a dog simply being present in a field.
Pregnant ewes can abort their lambs or lambs can be separated from their mothers, causing distress and in some cases malnutrition.
The campaign also points out that the Scottish Outdoor Access Code says that dogs should not be taken into fields where there are lambs or other young farm animals.
The League’s covert footage shows mounted hunts with packs of hounds riding through fields with sheep.
One clip of the Lauderdale Hunt shows a pregnant ewe falling heavily as hounds run nearby.
Other footage captured shows flocks of sheep running away from dogs and trying to leap over walls and fences.
Secret footage included Fife Foxhounds and the Duke of Buccleuch’s hunt, which was filmed last spring at Ettrickbridge.
Robbie Marsland, director of The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “The League recently reviewed footage obtained over past hunting seasons for evidence of sheep worrying and was shocked and alarmed by what we saw. If the sight of one dog can devastate a pregnant ewe we can only stagger at the prospect of what a pack of over 30 dogs in full cry must have.”
Harry Huyton, director at animal welfare charity OneKind, said: “This appears to be a case of one rule for the hunts, another for everyone else. Yet for the sheep being terrified by packs of dogs, the fact that they are part of a fox hunt is completely irrelevant. The list of reasons why the Scottish Government needs to get on with it and introduce a complete ban on fox hunting just keeps on growing.”
SNP MSP Ruth Maguire said: “Sheep worrying is a huge issue for farmers, particularly at this time of year when pregnant ewes are preparing to lamb so it is deeply concerning that hunts are routinely causing so much chaos to flocks of sheep with no regard whatsoever for their welfare.”
But Jamie Stewart, Scottish Countryside Alliance director, said: “It would seem that having failed to film foxhounds chasing foxes that LACS have returned to their deceitful tactic of misleading the general public with this ridiculous footage of foxhounds not chasing sheep.
“The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 stipulates that foxhounds can only operate by permission, it would be ridiculous to think that this would be granted if the hounds were worrying the sheep or causing a negative impact on lambing ewes.
“Far from making complaints, many farmers welcome the assistance of hunt staff who live and work within the farming community as they give off their own time to help during the lambing effort.” Police Scotland said that it recognises the impact of sheep worrying and urged people to report incidents.
The National Farmers Union Scotland backs Police Scotland’s campaign. Its policy manager, Gemma Cooper, said that livestock worrying “remains a blight on Scottish livestock farming”.
She added: “As we are now into lambing, NFUS would remind the public that they should not take access in fields with very young lambs, but should find an alternative route.”