by Countryside Alliance

The Scottish Government recently published the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill. The Bill comprises a number of proposals that will be detrimental to the welfare of both foxes and rabbits, and also the red-listed species that the Scottish Government have spent a great deal of your money on trying to protect. If that wasn’t enough, Scottish farmers and land managers will be unable to sufficiently protect their stock against foxes. NatureScot, (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) stated that more fox control was urgently required to save the highly endangered Capercaillie, amongst other red-listed species. Also, no consideration has been given to the welfare of trained dogs or kept animals in this Bill.

Anti-hunting organisations continue to lobby the Scottish Government under the misguided belief that Scottish hunts are breaking the law. This is rarely ever supported with evidence, yet the government is willing to legislate on their word before taking heed of their own independently commissioned report. The government also refers to foxes being killed for sport. Foxes are controlled to protect livestock and for the purpose of conservation. It is the anti-hunting organisations who have introduced the term “sport” in this context for emotive effect.

It is vital that MSPs are made aware of the concerns of people in rural areas. This is best done by contacting your MSP directly and raising the issues that matter most where this Bill is concerned.

The Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA) is asking you to lobby your MSP via our very simple e-lobby, which you can find here. You can also lobby them face-to-face. If this is not possible at the constituency office, you can request a video or telephone call to air your views. You can find your MSP and their contact details here. You can also telephone the MSP’s office in Holyrood by contacting the Scottish Parliament here, and ask for your MSP by name.

Scottish Parliamentary rules mean that MSPs are only able to act on behalf of their own constituents, so make sure you include your full name, address and postcode in any letter or email. As a constituent, you should expect to receive a response to your correspondence. The SCA would be delighted to receive any feedback so please let us know your MSP’s response.

It may be difficult for you to lobby on every point we have submitted, so here are the main topics to remember:

  • Licence – Stage 2 amendments on licensing from the Minister Mairi McAllan will now allow the granting of a license for a maximum of 14 days over a 6-month period. The Scottish Countryside Alliance will still be pushing for amendments allowing the granting of a 14-day individual licence over a 12-month period. The expectation for a 14-day licence to be used in a subsequent 6-month period is still very limiting and shows a lack of empathy and the understanding of how land management works in Scotland.
  • Two dog restriction – This is still being retained in the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill at Stage 2, with the Minister stating that removal of the 2-dog limit will create potential loopholes in the Bill. The restriction to 2 dogs goes against peer reviewed evidence, as well as Lord Bonomys’ recommendations. The League Against Cruel Sports have also admitted that 2 dogs would be “useless”. The Scottish Government fail to properly explain how this number came about as the viable option. Having been acknowledged by both sides that it will not work, the Scottish Government continue with this nonsensical notion. This restriction would increase animal welfare issues, directly in contravention of what the Scottish Government seek to achieve. It is an arbitrary figure that has been selected on a whim, rather than being evidence based.
  • Rabbits – Should be omitted from the Bill. The Green party are arguing that rabbits’ behaviour is similar to that of hares and that they are, essentially, more sentient than rats, and that should allow them protection in the same way as hares. Rabbits have been included to tackle the illegal hare poaching issue but, in doing so, have caused many unintended consequences. The control of rabbits with dogs will no longer be permitted as it is conducted now. Populations will explode and professional controllers’ livelihoods will be at risk. Gaining permission from the landowner to hunt rabbits effectively will be enough to enable hare poachers to be prosecuted easily, and there are currently no official welfare concerns for the way in which rabbits are controlled. 
  • Trail hunting – Banning a legal activity in case it may be abused by an absolute minority in future is not a sound foundation for legislating against it. Though not widely practiced in Scotland, it remains a legal activity under current legislation and is a vital method in which to train dogs. Contrary to spurious claims, it does not disrupt or disturb wildlife as the trail can be laid away from more sensitive areas.
  • Rough shooting – In its current form, this will virtually become illegal since the bag for the day is generally made up of both ground and avian game. Rough shooting should not be categorised as a ‘sporting’ activity.  It is a vital activity in controlling pest species, such as rabbits, and forms a significant part of the rural communities’ ability to come together in winter months. Working dogs over rough ground to flush pest species that would otherwise go unchecked, would cease altogether. This is also a key component of the training of field trial dogs.
  • Dogs below ground – This is also under attack, and it is not fully recognised how important this method of fox control is. If this is prohibited or restricted, “much of the work of the mounted or foot packs would be wasted effort” said Lord Bonomy. Not only to locate and flush adult foxes to the gun, but the ability to dispatch orphaned cubs below ground would be near impossible, particularly in rocky dens where they cannot be dug out. Also under the spotlight is a dog being “under control”. It must be recognised that these dogs are trained to do a job, experienced dog handlers use radio tracking collars on all dogs working below ground, and even if they are underground and out of sight and audible range, they must be trusted to do as they are trained.
  • No other effective solution – Who is to judge what this means and whether someone has done enough to be granted a licence? What is the threshold to reach and by what means? How will this be evidenced by the applicant? Predator control is only effective when a range of techniques are used, and this will depend upon a number of factors, including, weather, terrain, time of year and other wildlife present in that area.

Please join our campaign now to urge MSP’s to support amendments that will make the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill work for everyone living and working in our rural communities. Help protect our rural way of life.

If you require further assistance or advice, or would like to feed back to us, please contact us using the details below. To keep up to date with our progress you can sign up to our Heather Routes newsletter here.


Jake Swindells - Director for Scotland

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