Rodaidh Mclaughlin: Animal protection has gone to ground

The use of dogs during hunts as a means of flushing out foxes so they can be shot is a legal minefield in Scotland. Picture: PA
The use of dogs during hunts as a means of flushing out foxes so they can be shot is a legal minefield in Scotland. Picture: PA
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In 2002, the Scottish Parliament passed the pioneering Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act in the hope of establishing effective protection for foxes and other wildlife, whilst at the same time providing sufficient leeway for humanely containing population levels.

However, a recent report submitted to the Scottish Government by Lord Bonomy has stated there are: “Aspects and features of the legislation which complicate unduly the detection, investigation and prosecution of alleged offences”, and that “there is a basis for suspecting that there may be occasions when hunting, which does not fall within one of the exceptions, does take place and that the grounds for that suspicion should be addressed.”

Current legislation allows for the use of dogs during hunts as a means of flushing foxes from undergrowth so as they can then be shot humanely.

Police Scotland have recently raised concerns about the extent to which dogs continue to exceed their mandate and attack foxes. Also, they maintain that the ambiguities and loopholes within the law have hindered their investigations, encouraging Police Scotland to describe the situation as it stands as ‘unworkable’.

The League Against Cruel Sports has consistently argued that there is widespread law-breaking and that hunting often takes place without so much as the presence of a firearm, therefore indicating that foxes are potentially being killed unlawfully, and submitted more than one hundred hours of video evidence to Lord Bonomy’s review to substantiate their accusations. In partnership with animal welfare charity One Kind, the League recently carried out an investigation into the suspicious death of a fox, claiming that, in addition to suffering a non-fatal gunshot wound, it had been attacked by hounds.

As Lord Bonomy’s report highlights, current legislation is failing in its fundamental aim of ending the inhumane killing of Scottish wildlife.

In response, the Scottish Government’s Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP acknowledged shortcomings and stated that she is committed to ensuring the wellbeing of Scotland’s wildlife with a view to bringing forward reforms later this year.

Should she take on-board Lord Bonomy’s recommendations, she could propose the appointment of independent hunt monitors to periodically oversee hunts, extend the time limit for bringing forward prosecutions, and/or introduce a code of practice for hunting activities where, amongst other things, the police would require notification before a hunt took place.

The Scottish Green Party in Holyrood has been explicit in supporting several of Lord Bonomy’s proposed amendments and could lend Cunningham the support required.

According to polling by Ipsos MORI, 84 per cent of Scots support the aims of the current Act, but only 40 per cent believe current legislation is working.

For the sake of Scotland’s wildlife, Cunningham must not delay in bringing her plan before parliament, ensuring foxes finally gain the effective protection they should have received 15 years previously.

Rodaidh Mclaughlin is a Politics & Scottish History graduate. He lives in Crossford, Fife.