Fox hunts in Scotland have been accused of endangering the lives of sheep and pregnant ewes following the launch of a new police campaign to stop sheep worrying.
Undercover footage obtained by The Ferret shows Scottish hunts riding with pack of hounds through the countryside, sending flocks of sheep fleeing.
Sheep worrying is an offence in Scotland but the law allows an exemption for fox hunts’ hounds to be at large, if they are hunting legally.
The League Against Cruel Sports secretly recorded 20 incidents of hunts in fields with sheep, dating back to 2015, and is calling for the law to be reviewed.
The hunts say they act within the law at all times.
Police Scotland’s new campaign coincides with the spring lambing season to prevent livestock worrying.
The campaign says that “significant damage” can be caused by a dog simply being present in a field.
Pregnant ewes can abort their lambs, or lambs can be separated from their mothers, causing distress and in some cases malnutrition.
The campaign also points out that the Scottish Outdoor Access Code says that dogs should not be taken into fields where there are lambs or other young farm animals.
The League’s covert footage shows mounted hunts with packs of hounds riding through fields with sheep.
One clip of the Lauderdale Hunt shows a pregnant ewe falling heavily as hounds run amok.
Other footage captured shows flocks of sheep running away from dogs and trying to leap over walls and fences.
Hunts secretly filmed by The League included Fife Foxhounds and the Duke of Buccleuch’s Hunt, which was filmed last spring at Ettrickbridge.
"If the sight of one dog can devastate a pregnant ewe we can only stagger at the prospect of what a pack of over thirty dogs in full cry must have." Robbie Marsland, Director of The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland.
Robbie Marsland, director of The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “The League recently reviewed footage obtained over past hunting seasons for evidence of sheep worrying and was shocked and alarmed by what we saw.
“If the sight of one dog can devastate a pregnant ewe we can only stagger at the prospect of what a pack of over thirty dogs in full cry must have.
“The footage shows packs of fox hounds regularly evoking panic in flocks of sheep. In one case members of a hunt appear to casually ignore the plight of one clearly distraught sheep that desperately attempts to clamber over a wire fence and tumbles over and over as the hunt calmly ride by.
Harry Huyton, director at animal welfare charity, OneKind said: “This appears to be a case of one rule for the hunts, another for everyone else. Yet for the sheep being terrified by packs of dogs, the fact that they are part of a fox hunt is completely irrelevant.
“The list of reasons why the Scottish Government needs to get on with it and introduce a complete ban on fox hunting just keeps on growing.”
Ruth Maguire MSP of the SNP, said: “Sheep worrying is a huge issue for farmers, particularly at this time of year when pregnant ewes are preparing to lamb so it is deeply concerning that hunts are routinely causing so much chaos to flocks of sheep with no regard whatsoever for their welfare.
“I fully support the League is raising this issue which I hope will form part of the wider campaign to reduce sheep worrying at this sensitive time of year.”
In reply, Jamie Stewart, Scottish Countryside Alliance Director Scotland, said: “It would seem that having failed to film foxhounds chasing foxes that LACS have returned to their deceitful tactic of misleading the general public with this ridiculous footage of foxhounds not chasing sheep.
“The pest control service offered to farmers, was recognised by Lord Bonomy in his report to the Scottish Government “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”
“The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 stipulates that foxhounds can only operate by permission, it would be ridiculous to think that this would be granted if the “hounds” were worrying the sheep or causing a negative impact on lambing ewes.
“Far from making complaints, many farmers welcome the assistance of hunt staff who live and work within the farming community as they give off their own time to help during the lambing effort.
“In the same manner as LACS other unfound cries of foul play, this latest attempt to create a story can only impact on Police Scotland resources and the prevention of the detection of real crimes. Shame on you LACS.”
“The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 stipulates that foxhounds can only operate by permission, it would be ridiculous to think that this would be granted if the “hounds” were worrying the sheep or causing a negative impact on lambing ewes." Jamie Stewart, Director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance.
Police Scotland said that it recognises the impact of sheep worrying and urged people to report incidents.
Inspector Jane Donaldson, Rural Crime Co-ordinator at Police Scotland, added: “On 1 February, we launched our national spring livestock worrying campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to further reduce incidences of dog attacks on sheep.
“This is the third spring campaign, focussing on the lambing period, an important time of the year of sheep farmers.
“Farmers and those who use the countryside are urged to report all incidents of livestock worrying to police on 101 or 999 in an emergency. Police Scotland will also enforce the existing legislation robustly, ensuring all reported cases of sheep worrying are thoroughly investigated and offenders reported to the Procurator Fiscal.”
The National Farmers Union Scotland backs Police Scotland’s campaign. Its policy manager Gemma Cooper, said that livestock worrying “remains a blight on Scottish livestock farming”.
She added: “NFUS welcomes this campaign, and urges the public to ensure that when taking access to fields with livestock they ensure that dogs are under proper control. Last year there were a number of instances where farmers were left with no choice but to destroy dogs they caught worrying their stock, and in addition to this a number of owners received hefty sanctions.
“As we are now into lambing, NFUS would remind the public that they should not take access in fields with very young lambs, but should find an alternative route.”
You can view The League’s covert footage here.
A version of this report was published by the Sunday Post on 25th February 2018.