ANIMAL rights campaigners have condemned a golf club for hiring marksmen to shoot foxes that are damaging the greens.
Gourock Golf Club, in Inverclyde, has brought in the gunmen to kill the animals after members complained they were ruining the 18-hole course.
Foxes scavenging for food at night have dug up parts of the fairways and greens and have damaged several of the bunkers.
Several club members have complained about the state of the course over the past few weeks.
The club said it took the decision to bring in the professional gunmen after the animals caused damage worth "thousands of pounds".
A club spokesman yesterday confirmed that the marksmen had been hired, but
stressed that everything had been done "legally" and with "full knowledge of the police".
He said: "We have humanely, legally and with expertise shot one or two foxes that have damaged the course, with the knowledge of police."
The spokesman added: "The damage has cost us a considerable amount of money to repair."
However, the decision to shoot the foxes has sparked fury among animal rights campaigners.
Last night, activists condemned the club for being too keen to "shoot to kill". John Patrick, of Scotland For Animals, said: "This is a worrying development, as it could set the mark for how premises and businesses deal with so-called 'pest problems'."
He added: "There are several effective and humane methods of discouraging foxes and other animals from entering land.
"Hiring marksmen to creep around in the dead of night blasting bullets about the place isn't one of them.
"As far as Scotland for Animals can tell, Gourock Golf Club have used this shoot-to-kill policy as their first resort, which is completely unacceptable."
Mr Patrick went on: "We call on all those connected to the club and local residents to take action against those responsible for the decision."
A spokesman for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) yesterday confirmed that it was legal to shoot a fox.
But he added that they would expect landowners to look at other alternatives before resorting to killing animals.
SSPCA superintendent Mike Flynn said: "It is legal for a person to kill a fox with a firearm as long as they have the permission of the landowner to do so.
"This is quite common on farmland where there is a risk to livestock or crops, and occasionally on hospital property where there is a risk of disease, but this is the first time we have heard of a golf club taking this action.
"It is our view that there are other ways of deterring foxes from land, and we would expect the owners to have explored all non-lethal alternatives before taking this action.
"We would also expect that the marksmen are fully trained in the use of firearms and must be able to kill a fox outright with one shot."
Gourock Golf Course opened more than 110 years ago and is described as a "picturesque" course with "spectacular" views over the River Clyde and Argyllshire Hills.