The politics of the Scottish countryside have long travelled on a different road to those in other parts of the United Kingdom for both historical and practical reasons. In recent decades there have also been concerns that some rural issues have been hijacked for sectional interests. The new SNP government was elected on a manifesto which committed to legislate on a range of rural issues from fox control, to grouse shooting, to deer management and the coming months and years will reveal whether it intends to proceed on the basis of evidence and principle or chase perceived short-term political gain.
As those of you in Scotland will know, the SNP has entered into a formal cooperation agreement with the Green Party to secure a majority in Holyrood. This, in itself, presents concerns as the Greens are far from rational on a range of rural issues. Whilst the two parties have reportedly agreed to disagree on fox control, they have signed up to policies on the licensing of grouse shooting and legislation on deer management. Whilst many of us would question whether this raft of rural legislation is necessary, it is now inevitable. The role of the Scottish Countryside Alliance and our partner organisations in Scotland is to ensure that the voice of the countryside is heard and that the Scottish government cannot ignore the evidence of the benefits of wildlife management and country sports.
On hunting, the Scottish government has indicated that a Fox Control Bill to ‘strengthen’ current legislation is imminent and that it will be launching a consultation within weeks. Since 2002, Scottish hunts have been restricted to using packs of hounds to flush foxes to be shot and for well over a decade there was little, if any, discussion of fox control. Only when a political campaign was launched in Holyrood did hunting re-emerge as a political issue in Scotland again.
A Scottish government consultation, carried out by Lord Bonomy, unequivocally rejected the case for further restrictions on the number of hounds that can be used in fox control and peer-reviewed research carried out in Scotland has shown that using packs of hounds is both more effective and humane than using two as the law requires in England and Wales. Yet, in 2019, the Scottish government said it would “go further” than Lord Bonomy’s recommendations, which seemed to be a euphemism for contradicting him, and bring in a two dog restriction.
Ministers are, however, aware that there is no logical justification for the further restrictions to the practice of using packs of hounds, especially in light of Lord Bonomy’s findings, and that they could be vulnerable to legal challenge if they compromise the rights of farmers and other land managers to protect their livestock and their livelihoods. For that reason they have proposed that there will be a licensing system for the use of packs in fox control. Banning things and then creating a license to allow them to be carried out does seem a wasteful and overly bureaucratic approach, especially when there is no problem to address in the first place. The Scottish Countryside Alliance will, however, work with Ministers and officials to ensure that any such system is equitable and workable.
We will be in contact with Scottish members as soon as the consultation on fox control is issued to inform you how you can respond.
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