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‘Monumental day’ as Holyrood passes new laws on hunting with dogs

Legislation passed by Holyrood will introduce a licensing scheme, with the use of more than two dogs for hunting only allowed in limited circumstances (Danny Lawson/PA)
Legislation passed by Holyrood will introduce a licensing scheme, with the use of more than two dogs for hunting only allowed in limited circumstances (Danny Lawson/PA)

New laws introducing further restrictions on hunting with dogs have been passed by Holyrood, with animal welfare campaigners hailing it as  a “monumental day for Scotland”.

However the Tories have warned the legislation – which was due to come before the Scottish Parliament in 2020 but was delayed because of the Covid pandemic – could be “the final nail in the coffin for many of Scotland’s endangered species”.

The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill was passed by 90 votes to 30 by the Scottish Parliament, with environment minister Mairi McAllan saying it would have an “immediate effect” by “modernising and strengthening” the existing legislation.

The changes will bring in a two-dog limit for all use of dogs in hunting, and will also ban trail hunting.

But the Bill  will bring in a new licensing scheme, which will allow the use of more than two dogs in certain limited circumstance.

It comes more than two decades after Holyrood first passed legislation on hunting, which Ms McAllan said had made Scotland “the first part of the UK to ban fox hunting”.

But she insisted the Wild Mammals Protection (Scotland) Act of 2002 had been “flawed” and did not “have the impact it was intended to”.

Ms McAllan said: “There is no doubt there has been a clear cultural shift in our attitude towards wildlife over the last few decades.

“Practices such as hare coursing, fox hunting, badger baiting and dog fighting , which were once legal activities, and quite unbelievably considered to be spectator sports, they are no longer acceptable.”

The minister insisted: “The chasing and the killing of wild mammals with packs of dogs has no place in modern Scotland.”

And speaking about the new legislation, she added: “I firmly believe it will have an immediate effect by modernising and strengthening the legislation to assist enforcement authorities in dealing with those who would persist in illegal hunting.”

OneKind director Bob Elliot said: “This is a monumental day for Scotland. For 20 years the Scottish public have made it very clear that they want a real ban on the cruel ‘sport’ of foxhunting and now, after decades of tireless campaigning from ourselves and like-minded organisations and individuals, we finally have that ban.”

He added: “The chasing and killing of our beautiful foxes for ‘fun’ is unbelievably cruel and we are delighted that today the Scottish Government consigned this archaic ‘pastime’ to Scotland’s history books.

“Today we have a positive step towards wild animals finally obtaining the respect and basic protections that they deserve.”

Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, also welcomed the Bill, saying: “As of today, Scotland has the most robust law anywhere in the UK to prevent the cruelty of chasing and killing wild mammals for sport – and this is something to celebrate.

“Despite a persistent campaign from those resolute to keep hunting alive in the Scottish countryside, the Scottish Government has been determined to end the sport of hunting, a sentiment which has today been supported by the Parliament.

But Scottish Labour said the changes should have gone further, with rural affairs spokesman Colin Smyth insisting:”It won’t close all the loopholes that exist, it won’t end the use of packs of dogs, it merely licenses them.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative rural economy spokeswoman Rachael Hamilton accused the government of having “ignored the views of experts”.

The Tory MSP said: “This Bill should really be able the balance between animal welfare and biodiversity. If there is no hunting with dogs, predators will be left to attack other animals.

“Those predators will, left unchecked, attack livestock, like lambs and sheep, or ground nesting birds like the curlew, the capercaillie or other vulnerable species.

“This is not a simple Bill that protect animal welfare. It is a Bill that protects some animals welfare at the expense of others.

She insisted it would be regarded as having “pinned the final nail in the coffin for many of Scotland’s endangered species”.

Meanwhile the Scottish Countryside Alliance branded the licensing process that will now come in for those wishing to use more than two dogs as being “both unjustified and unnecessary”.

The organisation’s director Jake Swindells however said: “The licensing scheme is, at least, an explicit acceptance by the Scottish Government that the use of packs of dogs in wildlife management is effective and necessary.

“It will now be down to NatureScot, the licensing body, to ensure that farmers and wildlife managers are able to access the best options for fox control in all circumstances.”