Half of Scots fox hunts breaking law, say campaigners

Hunt video Image copyright League Against Cruel Sports
Image caption Surveillance video shot by campaigners claimed hunts were breaking the law

At least half of Scotland's registered hunts are breaking the law on fox hunting, campaigners have claimed.

The League Against Cruel Sports said it has video evidence suggesting hunts were routinely using dogs to hunt foxes and not merely "flush" them from cover for shooting, which is allowed.

The League's director said hunts were "flouting the law with impunity".

The Scottish Countryside Alliance said the allegations were politically motivated.

It added that a lack of prosecutions suggested the law was being complied with.

Scotland became the first UK nation to ban hunting with dogs in 2002, with England and Wales following two years later.

'No shotguns used'

The League said it carried out surveillance on five recent hunts in Scotland between December 2015 and March 2015 and saw no shotguns used during 16 days of filming.

Image copyright League Against Cruel Sports
Image caption The League of Cruel Sports wants Holyrood ministers to amend the law on fox hunting to reduce the number of dogs used in "flushing"

Robbie Marsland, director of the League in Scotland, added: "Our footage suggests that at least half the hunts in Scotland are flouting the law with impunity and are operating as if the ban doesn't apply to them.

"While the hunts we observed claimed to be 'flushing to guns', our investigators did not see a single shotgun either used or even brandished."

The video evidence does not include any footage of a fox being killed by dogs.

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 states that a person who deliberately hunts a wild mammal with a dog is committing an offence.

An exception is made whereby dogs under control may be used "to flush a fox or mink from below ground flush a fox from an enclosed space within rocks or other secure cover above ground".

This process is known as "flushing to guns".

The League is now calling for an amendment to the law to reduce the number of dogs used in flushing to guns to two and the addition of a clause outlawing reckless behaviour.

Campaigners will show MSPs a video containing some of the footage at Holyrood on Wednesday.

Information on one of the hunts has been passed to Police Scotland.

'Much-needed service'

Jamie Stewart, director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, which supports hunting foxes with dogs, called the current law "unjustified" but said it did at least allow hunts and hill packs to continue to deliver "a much-needed service" to livestock farmers.

He told the BBC he was "appalled" that campaigners were trying to change the law on the evidence of a video that was "at best subjective, at worst contrived".

He added: "There have been no convictions relating to fox control with hounds which suggests compliance with the legislation and that Police Scotland and other agencies have effectively monitored the practices over the 13 or so years since implementation.

"The League Against Cruel Sports is a tiny organisation with a membership of less than 3,000 UK-wide.

"It has a political agenda which rejects the case for managing foxes entirely and has no interest in the economic and environmental wellbeing of rural Scotland.

"Serious animal welfare organisations recognise that the Act has achieved some level of balance."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said there were no plans to amend current legislation.

She added: "The offences laid out in the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 are very clear.

"Evidence of criminal activity is a matter for Police Scotland, so as with any crime we would urge anyone with any information to inform the police immediately."

Scottish Labour's rural affairs spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said the video evidence provided by the League was "deeply concerning" and urged ministers to consider the amendments.

The Conservatives have pledged to hold a House of Commons vote on repealing the ban in England and Wales.

The SNP does not routinely vote on legislation that does not affect Scotland, but its MPs are being urged by campaigners to use their vote this time.

The party has not yet said whether it will vote on the matter.

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