Lord Watson calls for police to probe fox hunts

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THE architect of the ban on fox hunting in Scotland has urged police to ensure the law is being enforced after it emerged that as many foxes may be being killed by hounds as before the change in legislation.

The controversial ban on hounds being able to kill their quarry was introduced ten years ago in one of the flagship reforms of the first Holyrood parliament.

But according to hunt officials, three times as many foxes are now being killed as before, with two-thirds being shot. The rest are still being killed by hounds, although the hunts argue they are working within the legislation.

But Lord Watson, who as Mike Watson MSP introduced the Protection of Wild Mammals Act (Scotland) 2002, said: “I’d be very unhappy if that’s the case, and that is a matter for police to pursue.

“It was difficult legislation to frame and I accept that it’s difficult legislation, in some circumstances, to enforce. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be enforced. The exemption was not designed to give carte blanche to those involved in hunting to let their dogs run amok.”

The act makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with a dog. An exemption allows foxes, as a “pest species”, to be flushed from cover and shot, and states that no offence is committed if the dog kills the fox in the course of it being flushed towards the guns.

According to Trevor Adams, huntsman with the Buccleuch Hunt, Scotland’s largest fox hunt, up to three times the number of foxes are being killed by the Buccleuch Hunt as before the change in law, which would mean that as many foxes now are despatched by dogs as a decade ago. The remaining two-thirds are shot.

The protocol on how to hunt foxes within the new law was developed by Adams and other leading members of the Buccleuch Hunt, and endorsed by the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

Tim Bonner, a spokesperson for the association, said the Buccleuch figures were likely to be typical of other hunts.

“Those numbers make perfect sense,” he said. “When you’re flushing to guns, of course a proportion of the foxes will be caught by hounds before they get to the guns.

“There is also a significant level of wounding by the guns, and the foxes are finished off by the hounds.

“We don’t believe that the foxes killed by hounds are necessarily any worse off. Endless research has been done which shows that it is no less humane than any other method. The legislation doesn’t make any sense and the act is no victory for animal welfare.”

Six of Scotland’s ten mounted fox hunts are within the Lothian and Borders Police area, but the force do not police hunts as a matter of course.

Detective Superintendent Cameron Cavin, in charge of wildlife crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said: “The Scottish police service has a duty to investigate any complaint of a breach of the law.

“If an allegation is received of a possible offence under the legislation, this would be investigated thoroughly, including application of the statutory exceptions.”