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The Scottish Government has been accused of "compromising the livelihoods of farmers" after it published new legislation that could restrict the ability of farmers to protect livestock and land managers to conserve threatened wildlife.
The Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA) has accused the Scottish Government of introducing legislation which is "in direct contradiction" of its own independent review conducted by Lord Bonomy.
Jake Swindells, the group's director, argued that the restrictions on the use of dogs in fox control were an "unnecessary and unjustified attack on rural Scotland".
It is currently legal in Scotland to use a pack of dogs to flush out foxes so that they can be shot. Peer reviewed research has shown that using a pack of dogs is both more efficient and humane than using two, and a government review carried out by Lord Bonomy rejected placing a restriction on the number of hounds used in hunts, saying this would "seriously compromise effective pest control in the country".
Lord Bonomy also 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".
The Scottish Government has said that licences would be granted for the use of packs of dogs for a "specified purpose" such as "the prevention of serious damage to livestock", and that applicants would have to demonstrate that "there was no satisfactory alternative method of control available".
The SCA has warned that any licensing scheme must be "workable and practical" and not risk hampering vital control measures.
Mr. Swindells said: "Farmers and land managers across rural Scotland will understandably be asking why the Scottish Government is intent on compromising their livelihoods in direct contradiction to both the science and its own review. It is noticeable that the Minister does not once mention Lord Bonomy's review or its conclusions in her statement.
"This legislation is an unnecessary and unjustified attack on rural Scotland. Depriving farmers of the ability to protect their livestock and their livelihoods would be a direct attack on their rights. Restricting the ability of land managers to protect threatened species like curlew and capercaillie is equally illogical. The only way the damage done by these proposals can be mitigated is by ensuring that the proposed licensing scheme is workable, practical and open to all farmers and land managers who use packs of dogs as part of their fox control measures."
Ian Duncan Millar, a sheep farmer from Perthshire who has lost livestock to foxes, warned that "that my livelihood and peace of mind will both be adversely affected if we lose the ability to control foxes with a reasonable-sized group of trained dogs".
He added: "If we are forced to a maximum of two dogs to flush out foxes it will be a totally impractical process as we know the fox will run around in the forest without fear or opportunity of the dogs flushing it from cover, or even getting close."