Alastair Robertson: On the trail of Lord Bonomy

Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
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It is probably no coincidence, although you never know, that just as the retired law lord Iain Bonomy started his review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 (aka the Hunting Act) a Sunday newspaper report declared police “appeared to be” biased in favour of hunts. (To which all right-minded people will say: “And quite right too”.)

But single-issue obsessives like hunt antis see conspiracy behind every bush. And the fact that no case of significance involving a hunt has been brought to court in Scotland since the ban was introduced 14 years ago is taken as proof by antis that the police must therefore be biased.

Lord Bonomy’s task anyway is to consider whether the act provides the right level of protection for wild animals, foxes in the main, while allowing for effective and humane control. He is not interested in watching hours of fuzzy film footage purporting to show hunts acting illegally.

Nor is he interested in opinion from either side of the argument. Submissions must be evidence based. Although neither, rather oddly, will he consider whether predator control is necessary to protect livestock or wildlife.

Under the circs, I suppose it would be frivolous to suggest Bonomy could do worse than recommend the reintroduction of hunting as it was before the Act. It may not have been a terribly efficient form of control but only the old or infirm animals were caught, if at all, and then only singly; as sustainable a system of natural selection as you can imagine. Under the Wild Mammals Act foxes of any age or sex must now be driven towards guns.

How sustainable is that? Compared to lamping at night with a rifle (even the RSPB shoots foxes), hunting is a small if important weapon for getting foxes out of forestry (the Forestry Commission no longer controls its foxes) or impenetrable bits of hill. It is when we come to snaring and terrier work – putting dogs into dens after cubs, often crucial for hill farmers with lambs – that keepers and shoot managers are going to be up against Bonomy.

Every instance of improperly set or inspected traps and snares will be thrust before the review along with lists of convicted badger baiters and hare coursers. These last have nothing to do with legitimate field sports, yet each will be produced as “proof” that the game and hunting world is also rotten to the core. The field sports lobby had better have its ducks lined up. The antis will throw everything they can at Lord Bonomy. What they will not be able to throw is a huge list of hunting convictions showing the Act is in tatters, because there is no list – QED the police must be biased. Or just busy.