Animal-rights campaigners have urged the Scottish Government to make this year’s Boxing Day hunts the last in the wake of a review of the legislation.
The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland and OneKind renewed calls for the law to be strengthened on one of the biggest dates in the hunting calendar.
It follows a review led by Lord Bonomy concluding last month that some aspects of the current legislation ‘’complicate unduly’’ the detection, investigation and prosecution of offences.
Fox hunting with dogs was banned in Scotland in 2002, with the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act stating a person who deliberately hunts a wild mammal with a dog is committing an offence.
An exception is made when dogs may be used to stalk or flush out a fox to be shot for purposes including the control of pest species, protecting livestock or ground-nesting birds.
Mounted hunts in Scotland have since offered farmers, landowners and estate managers a pest or fox control service but campaigners have claimed ‘loopholes’ in the legislation mean it is not ‘worth the paper it is printed on’.
Lord Bonomy’s report concluded there were grounds to suspect “there may be occasions when hunting, which does not fall within one of the exceptions, does take place” and recommended further clarification of the law as well as independent hunt monitors.
Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “The ball is now firmly in the Scottish Government’s court.
“Public opinion in Scotland wants to see fox hunting banned, the Government thought they had banned it, but as our evidence, Lord Bonomy and Police Scotland have revealed, hunts are running a coach and horses through the current legislation.
“In short, the law isn’t fit for purpose and, in keeping with the commitments made by the First Minister to strengthen the law if it were necessary, we look to the Government to do that by November 2017 - in time to stop next year’s hunting season.”
The organisation said nearly 10,000 people had signed an online petition calling on Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to take speedy action.
Harry Huyton, director of OneKind, said: “The hunts will yet again go out today and foxes will be killed.
“Some may even be ripped apart by the packs of hounds that continue to be used by the hunts throughout the country.
“We are calling on the Scottish Government to act as early as possible in 2017 to ensure this is the last Boxing Day this cruel ‘sport’ darkens the festive period.”
Ms Cunningham said: “The Scottish Government recognised concerns about whether the legislation on fox hunting is working properly and that is why we asked Lord Bonomy to carry out his review, which we received last month.
“Back in 2002, Scotland led the way in addressing animal-welfare concerns and we remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of welfare for our wild animals.
“We will now carefully consider the findings with a view to responding early in 2017. Any ensuing proposals for legislative change will be subject to the normal consultation processes.”