Legal loopholes that have enabled hunters to continue killing foxes are to be closed at last say campaigners
Loopholes allowing fox hunters to flout the law and slaughter animals could be closed.
The Scottish Government has said it will look at strengthening legislation which was intended to bring an end to fox hunting in Scotland.
However, get-out clauses in the Wild Mammals Act 2002 mean that rather than bring the practice to an end, at least ten hunts are still in operation.
A review by Lord Bonomy has concluded that the legislation needs revised and strengthened.
He suggested that the main loophole that allows hunting to continue, flushing foxes with packs of hounds towards guns, could be interpreted as a cover to allow traditional hunts to take place.
His report also suggested that a code of conduct be developed and a system of independent hunt monitoring be implemented.
Now the Scottish Government has opened a consultation on his proposals, a move which has been welcomed by animal rights groups.
Harry Huyton, director of OneKind, said: “The commitment by the Scottish Government to strengthen the Act takes us one step closer to ending this cruel practice once and for all.
“OneKind welcomed Lord Bonomy’s report and we hope to see all of his recommendations implemented as soon as possible. Ministers must also consider what further action is needed to end fox hunting in Scotland for good, starting with closing the loophole in the law that allows fox hunting to continue under the guise of pest control.”
“Our priority is a real hunting ban in Scotland, but in the meantime voluntary measures and independent monitoring of hunts could be useful interim measures. We look forward to contributing to this process to ensure that these measures protect foxes as much as possible.
“Closing the loopholes and banning fox hunting in Scotland for real should be an urgent imperative for the Scottish Government. Not only is fox hunting cruel, but the fact that it continues 15 years after it was supposedly banned undermines Scotland’s reputation as a leader in animal welfare.”
Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “This is a good first step in making the law which prevents wild mammals being hunted, chased and killed for sport clearer and more suited to its intended purpose. We agree with Lord Bonomy that hunts are using exemptions within the current legislation as a decoy for continuing with traditional hunting practices and that their activities are incidental to pest control.
“We all thought the act would put a stop to hunting but sadly this wasn’t the case and we now look to the Government to keep the momentum going, following Lord Bonomy’s review, to progress towards a situation where hunting in Scotland is really banned.”
Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “I am determined to ensure the highest possible levels of animal welfare and Lord Bonomy’s recommendations will help us build on the advances already achieved.
“This package of measures will substantially improve the language used in the existing legislation, address inconsistencies in the law, and strengthen the scrutiny and accountability of hunts.”
The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 saw fox hunting with dogs banned.
The law stated that a person who deliberately hunted a wild mammal with a dog was committing an offence.
An exception was made when dogs can be used to stalk or flush out a fox to be shot in the interests of pest control, protecting livestock or ground-nesting birds.
That prompted mounted hunts in Scotland to be offered to farmers, landowners and estate managers as a form of pest or fox control.
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, believed the “ball is now firmly in the Scottish government’s court”.
He added “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 for Ms Cunningham to take speedy action.
Harry Huyton, director of OneKind, echoed Mr Marsland’s plea and asked the Scottish government to “act as early as possible in 2017”.
Ms Cunningham said the Holyrood administration recognised concerns around the current legislation and that was why Lord Bonomy was asked to carry out the review.
She added: “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.”
The Scottish Countryside Alliance said the Bonomy review was “absolutely supportive” of the principle of using packs of hounds to flush to guns.
Its director, Jamie Stewart, said: “The League Against Cruel Sports team should try reading the review before commenting on it. Just because the proposals they made have been so comprehensively rejected is no excuse for so seriously misrepresenting the review.
“I find Mr Marsland’s tactics hugely disrespectful to Lord Bonomy and his team. LACS are obviously in disagreement with his recommendations to the Scottish government and have taken to paying for propaganda to try and influence the mind of the cabinet secretary and members of the Scottish parliament.
“Mr Marsland continues to peddle LACS lies over the timeline of events and the contents of his heavily edited footage, which despite drawing on hundreds of hours of secretly filmed footage, failed to show any illegal action.”
The fox-hunting ban isn’t worth the paper it is written on according to a Scottish animal welfare charity.
With the beginning of November marking the start of the hunting season, OneKind is calling on the Scottish Government to strengthen the law which bans fox hunting in Scotland.
The charity claims despite the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 being in its 13th year there has been no convictions for those ignoring the ban as loopholes are still being exploited.
Very little has changed over the years and hunts are continuing to hunt as they did before the legislation was implemented according to OneKind director Harry Huyton.
“Fox hunting is apparently banned in Scotland, yet from this weekend hunts will be going out, seeking and killing foxes,” Huyton said.
“In all this time, very little has changed as a result of loopholes in the original legislation that in effect allow this cruel and outdated practice to continue.
“The Scottish Government has committed to reviewing the legislation and OneKind would like to see this carried out as an urgent priority with outcomes that finally make the ban worth the paper it’s written on.”
Before the hunting ban was passed in 2002 there were 10 operational mounted fox hunts in Scotland.
OneKind says there are still 10 today and there have been no successful prosecutions of mounted hunts under the act, whereas in England and Wales there have been a series of prosecutions under what it describes as the more robust Hunting Act.
The latest Scottish Government report into wildlife crime shows that only five cases associated with mounted fox hunt activities have been reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service since 2003, and none of these resulted in a conviction.
Huyton added: “The time has come for a speedy and determined review of the legislation to finally do what the law was intended for: banning fox hunting.”
Foxes can benefit farmers to an average of £500 a year, according to a new study published to coincide with the Scottish parliament’s review of hunting legislation.
Campaigners hope that tightening the foxhunting ban in Scotland will prevent David Cameron reintroducing attempts to relax the ban in England and Wales.
The report was commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland to coincide with a Holyrood review of the effectiveness of its ban, which includes a “pest control” loophole that still allows the use of dogs if they are “flushing” foxes from cover towards waiting guns.
Drawing on more than 60 independent studies, as well as his own research, Stephen Harris, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Bristol and a leading vulpine expert, concludes that foxes are not the pests that hunters claim; that hunting them does not reduce fox populations and that killing them can actually increase overall numbers.
Harris found that fox numbers have decreased since the ban was introduced in Scotland in 2002, two years before the practice was banned across England and Wales, contradicting predictions made by the pro-hunt lobby.
The report argues that pest control can be counterproductive, especially when a dominant animal is killed. That causes more foxes to move into an area to compete for the vacant space, leading to a local increase in numbers and higher livestock losses.
But it also notes that the fox is not a significant livestock predator, with losses of hill lambs to foxes proportionately lower compared with other causes of mortality such as weather and poor husbandry. It also calculates that the animals can be worth between £156 and £886 to farmers due to their efficient rabbit predation.
The Scottish government announced a review of the Scottish ban, enshrined in the Protection of Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, in September after surveillance of five of Scotland’s 10 hunts suggested that they were routinely ignoring the legislation.
Campaigners would like to see legislation amended to reduce the number of dogs used in flushing to guns to two, to prevent hunts from using a full pack under cover of the exemption, and to add a clause outlawing reckless behaviour.
Robbie Marsland, director of the Scottish League, said: “Hunts in Scotland claim they are hunting legally, using the flushing to guns loophole. But the league’s own extensive video footage shows no evidence of guns, leading us to suspect that Scottish hunts have not altered their behaviour since the 2002 hunting ban came into force.”
Campaigners are also hopeful that if Scotland toughens its ban this will make it harder for the Westminster government if it revisits the issue as expected later this year.
In a major humiliation for Cameron, the government was forced to withdraw its attempt to relax the foxhunting ban in England and Wales in July after the Scottish National party said it would vote against the change. At the time Downing Street insisted the proposal was a technical change to bring the law in England and Wales more closely into line with Scotland.
Downing Street was expected to revisit the issue in the autumn after the introduction of English votes for English laws in parliament, although the new procedure would not stop the SNP voting down the relaxation of the foxhunting ban because it still requires a vote of the whole house for legislation to pass, in addition to a vote by English and Welsh MPs only.
Fox hunting was meant to have been banned in Scotland back in 2002.
Securing the ban on hunting with dogs was one of our proudest moments. It was a landmark victory for the animal welfare movement, and the vast majority of the public, who agreed that chasing a wild animal with a pack of hounds to the point of exhaustion and death should not be acceptable under law. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, as it is known, has helped counter some forms of hunting with dogs, but thirteen years later, it’s become clear that loopholes in the law allow mounted fox hunts to carry on hunting much the same as they did before.
The law allows for packs of hounds to be used for stalking and flushing foxes from cover with the intention they will then be shot. As a result of this loophole, fox hunts in Scotland are able to continue chasing foxes, and there have been no successful prosecutions of hunts since the legislation was introduced. The League Against Cruel Sports investigation of Scottish Hunts in the 2014/15 season gave the impression that whilst exploiting this loophole was routine, the hunts they filmed didn’t even appear to have anyone with guns present.
We now have a chance to put an end to this cruelty for good. When the SNP intervened to save the Hunting Act in England and Wales from seriously damaging amendments, their spokesperson stated in no uncertain terms that, “we totally oppose fox hunting”. They also confirmed they would review whether the Scottish ban is strong enough.
This is our chance to close the loopholes and end fox hunting in Scotland for good. OneKind are asking us to help finish off what we started many, many years ago. Take action now, and ask the Minister responsible to close the loopholes and make the hunting ban in Scotland effective.
Following the recent successful delay of threats to the Hunting Act in England and Wales, IFAW are now calling on stronger protection for animals in Scotland.
When the UK Government recently tried to wreck the Hunting Act for England and Wales, we heard a lot about how this would bring the law in line with the ban across the border in Scotland.
That’s no reassurance for animals though, as protection for wild mammals in Scotland could be substantially improved.
Incredibly, despite numerous allegations of illegal hunting, there has never been a successful prosecution of a mounted hunt member under the hunting laws in Scotland?
IFAW are asking for help now to strengthen animal protection laws in Scotland.
As an added bonus, this would also scupper the UK Government’s claim that by amending the laws south of the border they are simply trying to bring their provisions in line with those in Scotland.
As a bare minimum, IFAW want to see the laws in Scotland match the current Hunting Act in England and Wales, with provisions that would make enforcement easier (such as the number of dogs allowed to be used in some exemptions.)
They are asking members of the public to contact our MSPs and urge them to tighten up the laws in Scotland.
Illegal hunters prosecuted south of the border for hunting offences can often get away unpunished by claiming false alibis, such as ‘trail hunting’. IFAW also want to see this addressed.
To take action today and tell your MSP we demand better protection for wild animals in Scotland, click this link.
Next week, MPs in England and Wales will vote on whether to allow ‘back door’ amendments to the Hunting Act. The Conservatives wish to see a relaxing of the Act, which would bring it more in line with Scotland where any number of dogs can be used. In England and Wales, the number is limited to two.
We cannot allow this to happen. Chasing a fox is barbaric, but using a whole pack of dogs is senseless butchery. Please, please write to your MP and ask them to vote to keep the Act as it is.
The government has published proposals to allow foxes to be hunted by packs of dogs in England and Wales again as long as it is “appropriate” for the terrain and done “efficiently” to protect other animals.
Ahead of a free vote on the issue next Wednesday, it is understood English and Welsh MPs are currently split almost equally on whether to approve changes to the law that would bring England into line with Scotland.
Given the likely closeness of the vote, the SNP will come under intense pressure from the anti-hunting lobby to break with tradition and vote against the changes, even though they only apply to England.