An animal welfare charity has urged the Scottish Government not to drop plans for tighter regulation of fox hunting following the conviction of a top huntsman who encouraged illegal hunting.
The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland (The League) commented after Mark Hankinson was found guilty of encouraging and assisting people to evade the ban on fox hunting in England earlier this month.
The court’s verdict precedes the publication of a consultation on the Scottish Government’s plans for new legislation on fox hunting, which is due to be published before the end of the year.
Hankinson is a director of the Master of Foxhounds Association, the governing body for registered packs of foxhounds which represents 170 packs in England and Wales and eight in Scotland. He was fined £1,000 at Westminster Magistrates Court, London.
Recordings of Hankinson speaking to around 100 senior hunters in two private webinars in August 2020 were leaked online. The court heard that Hankinson told participants: “If you’ve got saboteurs out with you in any shape or form we need to have clear, visible, plausible trail laying being done throughout the day. It’s a lot easier to create a smokescreen if you’ve got more than one trail layer operating.”
Trail hunting involves people on foot or horseback following a scent along a route with hounds or beagles. It replicates a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased, injured or killed. However animal welfare campaigners have alleged that trail hunts are used as cover for hunting live foxes.
Announcing the verdict, Judge Tan Ikram, deputy chief magistrate of England and Wales, said: “In my judgement he was clearly encouraging the mirage of trail laying to act as a cover for old fashioned hunting.
“Perhaps most incriminating was the advice that trail laying had to be as ‘plausible’ as possible. There would be no need to suggest that would be needed unless it was a sham or a smokescreen.”
The Masters of Foxhounds Association reportedly said it was considering an appeal of the verdict. It did not reply to The Ferret’s request for a comment.
Trail hunting was introduced as a sport after the Hunting Act came into force in 2004 in England and Wales – a way of hunting in a manner similar to traditional fox hunting.
This type of hunting was not introduced in Scotland due to the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 which allowed hunts to take out a full pack of hounds.
But campaigners have been asking the Scottish Government to limit the number of dogs on fox hunts to two. They also want ministers to ensure trail hunting cannot be introduced as a loophole to get round the law.
The Scottish Government’s proposed fox control bill includes measures to reduce a pack of hounds to just two dogs. It also includes “pre-emptive measures to address the likelihood of ‘trail-hunting’ becoming established in Scotland”.
Robbie Marsland, the League’s director in Scotland, said: “This verdict completely vindicates the Scottish Government’s plans to ensure trail hunting cannot be introduced into Scotland. It also reveals the scale of dishonesty hunters will descend to in order to continue to be able to encourage packs of hounds to chase and kill foxes.
He added: “It also seriously compromises anything the hunters will say in response to the forthcoming consultation on the government bill to strengthen the current legislation. It’s time for the smokescreens to be blown away and for fox hunting to be really banned in Scotland – for good”.
A spokesman for the Scottish Countryside Alliance said: “Hunts in Scotland carry out pest control for the protection of livestock and wildlife as the legislation allows. The Scottish Government’s own review of that legislation stated ‘the use of packs of hounds to flush out foxes to be shot remains a significant pest control measure, both to control the general level of foxes in an area as well as to address particular problems affecting a farm or estate’”.
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