Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:

On Monday, the Scottish Government published its review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 which deals with hunting with dogs in Scotland.

img_5253The Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA) submitted evidence to Lord Bonomy’s review and SCA Director Jamie Stewart, helped facilitate meetings between the review team and Scottish hunts and hill packs, as well as arranging for Lord Bonomy to visit a Scottish mounted pack.

The history of such inquiries into hunting is that considered, objective consideration of the evidence supports the case for hunting, with the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs Committee report and the Burns Inquiry of the early 2000’s being prime examples. Unfortunately, as we know, the hunting debate is almost entirely politicised, which is why considered, objective evidence has so often been rejected by lawmakers in favour of prejudiced prohibition.

It cannot, therefore, be assumed that Lord Bonomy’s findings will be automatically accepted by legislators, but there is much about them that we can welcome.

On the case for the continuation of the use of dogs to flush to guns, for fox control underground and to follow up wounded mammals the Review is absolutely clear in its support for the principle of the current legislation. Lord Bonomy found that:

Fox Control/ Management

3.9 …the use of packs of hounds to flush out foxes to be shot remains a significant pest control measure, both to control the general level of foxes in an area as well as to address particular problems affecting a farm or estate.

Number of Dogs

7.26 …not only that searching and flushing by two dogs would not be as effective as that done by a full pack of hounds, but also that imposing such a restriction could seriously compromise effective pest control in the country, particularly on rough and hilly ground and in extensive areas of dense cover such as conifer woodlands.

Welfare

5.36… The practice of using dogs or a single dog to dispatch another injured animal or orphaned cubs may seem to many distasteful. The same may be said of the sight of the breaking up of the carcass of a fox. However, the weight of the evidence, as noted in the Burns Report at paragraph 6.48, is that in the vast majority of cases the time to insensibility and death in these situations is no more than a few seconds

Terriers

6.27 The material presented to the Review is persuasive of the need for the use of terriers to ensure the dispatch of a fox gone to ground.

Rural Community

6.13 …A wide range of members of the rural community of all ages engage with the hunt in these ways. Other related activities foster further social interaction. The hunts continue to make a major contribution to the social cohesion and community spirit of the locality and to highly valued features of rural life…

On enforcement and the wording of the current legislation we have questioned the unsubstantiated claims made about the current activities of Scottish hunts, and noted in particular how those raising such ‘concerns’ have waited 13 years since the law was passed to voice them, at a time when the Scottish legislation became relevant to a debate about changing the law in England and Wales.

However, whilst we do not believe there is a question that needs answering, we do not disagree with most of the answer Lord Bonomy has supplied. The majority of his recommendations would simply help clarify the legislation and, as we are confident that legitimate packs and fox controllers are working within the law, would have little impact on their activities.

Most importantly we support the proposal to revisit self-regulation and “introduce a scheme by voluntary arrangement governed by a Code of Practice”. Scottish packs developed a ‘Fox Control Protocol’ when the law was passed and also agreed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with the police. Lord Bonomy suggests that an arrangement with Police Scotland to provide advance information of their activities would “provide reassurance that the flushing to guns exception requirements are being met”. We believe that all legitimate packs in Scotland would be happy to engage with such a process.

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