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Tim Bonner: Scottish Government licenses hunting


On Tuesday the Scottish Parliament passed the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act. The new legislation is the result of a seven-year process, which has been wholly unnecessary and unjustified. The Act was driven by a continuing political obsession with fox hunting and creates further restrictions on the use of dogs in several areas of pest control from introducing a limit of two dogs when flushing to guns, confusion about rough shooting and serious limitations on the use of dogs in rabbit control. You can read our helpful Q&A: Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023 - What it means for those using dogs for wildlife management here.

However, thanks to the work done over many years by the Scottish Countryside Alliance, wildlife managers and those who operate packs of hounds, it does include a licensing scheme which will allow the continued use of packs in fox control to protect livestock and the environment. The licensing scheme is an explicit acceptance by the Scottish Government that the use of packs of dogs in wildlife management is necessary and is a response to research which proved that the use of packs is more effective than using two dogs.

Lord Bonomy accepted that research in the review he carried out for the Scottish Government in which he concluded that introducing a two-dog limit for flushing to guns would "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". Lord Bonomy's conclusions and the peer-reviewed research put the Scottish Government in a difficult position. If it had proceeded with its clear intention to introduce further restrictions on the use of packs of hounds it would have been wide open to legal challenge that it was breaching the rights of farmers and land managers in direct opposition to science and evidence.

The obvious response should have been to stop the whole wasteful process, but Ministers seem to have concluded that they were in too deep and therefore introduced the concept of licensing the use of packs of hounds to avoid potential legal challenge. Importantly, and as Lord Bonomy noted in his evidence to the rural affairs committee, this will only make the new law viable if the licensing scheme is fair and workable. The Scottish Countryside Alliance is already in discussion with the licensing body, NatureScot, to ensure that the process enables farmers and land managers to access the best options for fox control in all circumstances. We have taken extensive legal advice throughout the legislative process and will be ready to challenge any unjustified refusal of licence applications.

The implications of the new law, especially the first scheme to licence hunting, go well beyond Scotland and cut across political and geographic boundaries. It was interesting to note that both the Labour party and the Greens supported the government's utilitarian approach to wildlife management and now that the use of packs of dogs under licence has been legitimised in Scotland there are obvious questions about the ability of farmers and land managers in other parts of the United Kingdom to effectively manage the fox population.

What Scotland has shown us is that once the prejudice and politics are removed from the debate about wildlife management, the case for using packs of dogs is undeniable. The Alliance will continue to make that case and challenge any legislation which does not enable the effective management of foxes and other mammal species.


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