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Tim Bonner: The politics of the new Hunting with Dogs legislation

News of investigations and an arrest involving two Scottish hunts are slightly depressing, but probably inevitable given the new hunting with dogs legislation and the politics around it. It is worth remembering that the offence of hunting with dogs has not changed fundamentally from the law that was passed in 2002. That legislation saw hundreds of accusations made against hunts, almost exclusively by animal rights activists. Those allegations led to dozens of police investigations but only one conviction in 20 years, although there were plenty involving casual hunting.

Anti-hunting organisations will continue to make spurious allegations, because their aim is the social cleansing of hunts rather than anything that can reasonably be said to address animal welfare. Otherwise, there could be no possible reason to campaign against the use of packs to flush to guns which has been proven to be effective in protecting livestock and threatened wildlife.

They are particularly vindictive because despite their campaigning and the best efforts of the Scottish Government, the use of packs of hounds in fox control remains legal in Scotland, albeit under a bureaucratic licensing scheme, unlike England and Wales. The licensing scheme was introduced last autumn with no notice, before NatureScot had published its guidance and at the moment when fox control was being carried out. This was shockingly bad government and utterly disrespectful to the countryside, but symptomatic of a process that from the start had attempted to ignore evidence and impose prejudice.

The positive news is that despite the obstructive approach of the Scottish Government and its agency NatureScot, licences for the use of more than two dogs have been issued across Scotland from the Borders to the far North. The Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA) and our lawyers have been working with applicants and whilst there is much still to be resolved, we are confident that with the work that has been done this winter, the development of NatureScot’s approach and the opportunity to make applications in advance of next autumn and winter, the licensing situation will become more straightforward and packs will be able to carry out fox control throughout next season to reduce the impact of fox predation on livestock and wildlife.

The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act was unjustified, unnecessary and an utter waste of parliamentary time, but thanks to the determination of the SCA and the rural community it is not be the end of fox control with packs. As with the recent Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Act which licences grouse shooting, the rural community is having regulation imposed on it for reasons of prejudice rather than logic. We cannot escape parliamentary mathematics, but in both cases our approach must be to do everything in our power to make that regulation work.

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