Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
On Wednesday the Scottish Government announced its intention to bring forward legislation that directly contradicts its own independent review which says the proposal to limit the number of dogs that can be used to flush to guns will “seriously compromise effective pest control in the country”.
Whilst few of us will be surprised about this outcome, especially given the accelerating drift away from logical, liberal, evidence based legislation across the board, that does not mean we should not be outraged. That outrage should not be about the predictable prejudice that lies behind such a decision, as much as the blatant disregard for anything that might be regarded as evidence or due process.
When the Hunting Act was passed in England and Wales we often used the analogy of someone who had gone to court, been found not guilty, but who the judge had decided to sentence anyway. In many ways the proposals the Scottish Government has outlined this week are even worse.
The Government Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales found, in the words of its Chairman that there “was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data” to reach any conclusion to the question of whether hunting was cruel. The case against hunting was ‘not proven’.
When Lord Bonomy was asked to review hunting legislation in Scotland in 2016 he found that:
“…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.”
And he specifically rejected the case for limiting the number of dogs that can be used to flush:
“I am persuaded…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.”
In coming to his conclusions Lord Bonomy considered the study carried out by Naylor and Knott comparing the use of a pack of hounds and two hounds. In 2016 he acknowledged its “limitations”, but that research has subsequently been peer-reviewed and published in an academic journal making the case for flushing with a full pack even stronger.
On the basis of Lord Bonomy’s findings and the peer-reviewed science the case against hunting in its current form in Scotland is not just ‘not proven’, but resoundingly ‘not guilty’. In fact if this was a criminal prosecution it would be thrown out on the basis that there is no evidence on which any reasonable court could bring a conviction.
Politics is, however, far from a ‘reasonable court’ and the Scottish Government has now started a dogfight over an issue which is utterly irrelevant to the vast majority of Scottish people, and which does not even figure as part of its own rural or wildlife crime priorities.
The Scottish Countryside Alliance, along with its partner organisations in Scotland, will fight every inch of this battle using every legal and political avenue available. The SNP Government may view this as a dog whistle issue which effects only a tiny minority of people in rural Scotland, but it should heed the warnings of history. Tony Blair admitted that he was initially “ignorant” about hunting, but that in time the issue became one of his biggest regrets and that “by the end of it, I felt like the damn fox”.
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