Written by: Kimberly White 

The sport of fox hunting has been relegated to the past in Scotland. The Scottish Government has recently passed legislation limiting hunts to two dogs, effectively ending the use of fox hunting packs.

The Hunting with Dogs Bill replaces the 2002 Protection of Wild Mammals Act. 

While the Protection of Wild Mammals Act banned the sport of foxhunting, loopholes in the 2002 legislation failed to stamp out hunting and allowed fox hunting to continue regularly.

“The chasing and killing of a wild mammal with a dog, for sport, or otherwise, has no place in modern Scotland,” Environment Minister Màiri McAllan told BBC Scotland. “It’s been illegal for 20 years, but deficiencies in the previous legislation have led to concerns that it persists.”

The original legislation allowed hunters to use dogs to flush foxes from cover only if the animal was then shot and if the hunt was carried out to protect livestock or ground-nesting birds or to prevent the spread of disease. The original legislation failed to specify a limit on the number of dogs allowed. 

“An exception in the 2002 Act allowed for an unlimited number of dogs to flush mammals to guns and was exploited by fox hunting packs, who continued to hunt foxes much as they did before the so-called ‘ban,'” explains OneKind Director Bob Elliot. 

A significant victory 

Throughout the years, surveys have shown that the majority of Scots oppose fox hunting and are in favor of stronger legislation. A 2015 poll found that 84 percent of Scots opposed lifting the 2002 ban.

The new Hunting with Dogs Bill aims to clarify the law and close legal loopholes. 

The new legislation imposes a two-dog limit on flushing wild mammals to guns and bans trail hunting, which animal rights group OneKind argues has allowed fox hunting to continue in England. Trail hunting became a sport in England and Wales as a means to sidestep the Hunting Act passed in 2004.

The Bill’s inclusion of trail hunting is a “significant victory,” says Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland.

“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,” stated Marsland. “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.”

Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted 90 in favor and 30 opposed with no abstentions. 

“We are pleased that the Scottish Government has now closed this loophole and has also pre-emptively banned trail hunting, which we know has been used as a smokescreen for fox hunting in England,” added Elliot. 

Licensing scheme could be exploited by hunters

While the new legislation cracks down on fox hunting, it also includes a licensing scheme that could allow more dogs to be used in certain circumstances. People may apply for a license to use more than two dogs to flush out wild animals if other methods are deemed ineffective. 

Animal rights campaigners fear that the licensing scheme opens a new loophole for hunters to exploit. 

“We do not support the licensing scheme. There should not be any exceptions in the legislation to allow people to hunt a wild mammal using a dog,” said OneKind’s Bob Elliot. 

“After twenty years of flawed legislation it is critical that this Bill is not simply a way of creating new loopholes for hunters to exploit, and the League is yet to be convinced the licensing scheme won’t do this,” said Marsland. “Despite the best of intentions to ban hunting, the determination and deep rooted defiance among those who wish to chase and kill foxes should not be underestimated. The League will work closely with Nature Scot and other stakeholders to ensure the licensing system is robust, effective and fit for purpose.”