Scotland banned foxhunting in 2002 under the Protection of Wild Animals (Scotland) Act (PWAA). However, the PWAA provides an exception for the flushing out of foxes for pest control purposes. The current law provides inadequate protection for wildlife because hunt groups have been using the exception to perform what they term ‘pest control’ on farms and privately owned land. This has led to many incidences of what is, in effect, illegal foxhunting under the label of pest control.
Lord Bonomy produced a review in 2016, which found that the law was currently inadequate and that there were “grounds to suspect” that the loopholes allow for illegal fox hunting to take place. The report makes various recommendations for the strengthening of wildlife protection laws in Scotland. Two primary recommendations address the language and enforcement elements of the law. Firstly, that there must be more clarity within the language of the Act to ensure adequate protection. Secondly, aspects of the Act must be strengthened to ensure greater detection, investigation and enforcement of the law.
The Scottish Government conducted an analysis of this report, with a public consultation in 2017-2018. 98% of the public consultation respondents were campaign groups, with 94%-98% of the total 18,787 respondents supporting the proposals, many groups called for stronger protection than the reforms would provide.
After the overwhelming support for Lord Bonomy’s reforms, Scottish MSP, Mairi Gougeon, plans to introduce a Bill to Scottish Parliament, which would incorporate most of Lord Bonomy’s recommendations. This would include tightening up the language, as proposed by Lord Bonomy, to ensure “consistency and clarity”. Reforms also included introducing a two dog limit during pest control activities, with a possible licensing option to increase this if deemed necessary, as well as introducing a code of conduct and the possibility of holding landowners culpable for offences committed during a hunt on their land.
At first glance, the success of the bill could represent a legal triumph for wild animals; any strengthening of legal protections should be, and is, welcomed by many wildlife lovers and campaigners alike. However, there remains widespread support for a meaningful ban on all forms of hunting in Scotland. Indeed, the law in England allows for legal trail or scent hunts to take place, which involve people on foot or horseback following a scent along a predetermined route with hounds. However, such hunts are reported by campaign groups as a common mechanism for illegal hunts to take place and these hunts can lead to the death of wild animals. Investigations have demonstrated that hunt meets use these exceptions to conduct actual hunts.
Throughout the UK, there is strong support for a meaningful ban on the sport to ensure that wildlife does not come to harm, even if this were to happen “accidentally”. Regarding the proposed Scottish Bill, The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland has expressed concern over the possibility of licensing the use of more than two dogs, as this may merely present further loopholes in a Bill that is intended to amend the previous inadequacies in the law.
In March 2018 The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, OneKind and the International Fund for Animal Welfare called for a meaningful ban on all fox hunting. Such groups argue that while there are still exceptions in the law, whether licensing mechanisms for increasing dog numbers or the exception of legal trail hunts, such exceptions will be abused by those who wish to continue the blood sport tradition.
LLM King's College London
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