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Tim Bonner: Scottish government in a spin over fox control

There is something painfully ironic about the fact that the day after the Scottish Government unveiled its unnecessary and unjustified new Hunting with Dogs Bill, its own nature protection agency, NatureScot, published a scientific review calling for more fox control. The study into the perilous state of capercaillie population in Scotland concluded that more lethal control of foxes and crows, as well as removal and relocation of pine martens, is necessary if there is any chance of saving the capercaillie from extinction. This could hardly be described as joined up government.

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), which has been at the forefront of research into declining capercaillie numbers was particularly forthright in its response to the review saying: "We need predator management across their entire habitat – control of pine marten and foxes that science has shown are responsible for decimating brood numbers…we must up our commitment to lethal control of fox numbers, however unpalatable this may be in certain quarters. All involved need to commit to this. There has been denial over this level of necessary action for too long."

And what goes for the capercaillie goes for any number of other threatened ground nesting birds. From the black grouse to the curlew, the future of many species is reliant on predator control, which is why they thrive on grouse moors and other estates where foxes and other predators are legally controlled. Common sense would suggest that faced with this urgent need to manage the fox population the Scottish Government should be making it easier to use packs of dogs which have been scientifically proven to be an efficient tool for finding and flushing out foxes so that they can be shot. Instead, it is introducing restrictions and bureaucracy.

There is, at least, provision in the Bill for the use of packs to be licensed for environmental benefit. That provision is not currently wholly practical, nor is that for protecting livestock, but we will be working with Ministers, colleagues across the rural sector and with politicians of all parties to make the Bill at least workable for those who are tasked with the job of managing the Scottish countryside and preserving its wildlife. I can only echo the evident frustration of the GWCT that some, who have seen the evidence and should know far better, will continue to prevaricate about predator control until the last Scottish capercaillie chick or egg is taken by a fox.

If you live in Scotland please contact your MSPs immediately to tell them exactly what you think of the new Hunting with Dogs Bill and help the Scottish Countryside Alliance's campaign. Click here to take action now.

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