An animal welfare charity has released footage of a fox being chased by a pack of hounds and called on the Scottish Government to urgently strengthen hunting legislation.
The video was shot by investigators with the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland and shows a pack of hounds on the scent of an exhausted fox in the Borders.
The charity claims that the Jed Forest Hunt encouraged its hounds to search for, and chase foxes, and reported the incident to Police Scotland.
In response, however, the Scottish Countryside Alliance said the Jed Forest Hunt “operates a legal pest control service” and accused the League of releasing edited footage in a bid to “deceive the public”.
Hunting foxes with dogs was banned in Scotland in 2002. Since then, there has been one successful prosecution of mounted huntsmen for illegal hunting.
The League has been campaigning for the law to be strengthened to close loopholes which, it claims, allow hunts to continue traditional hunting.
The group’s director in Scotland, Robbie Marsland, claimed that the footage released “clearly demonstrates loopholes in the law which desperately need closed”.
He added: “Last year we were in a position where we had a Scottish Government making a clear commitment to really ban fox hunting in Scotland yet here we are twelve months on and still no action. The Scottish Government literally has a matter of weeks to start the process otherwise the window of opportunity will close as attention turns to the Scottish elections in 2021.”
In 2019 the Scottish Government announced plans to bring forward a bill to strengthen fox hunting legislation. The announcement was made on 9 January 2019 by the Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon MSP.
However, one year on and the process to bring forward the bill is yet to start, prompting the League to voice concern over the delay.
Marsland pointed out that public opinion was in favour of a “proper” ban on fox hunting, with a majority thinking the current law is inadequate. “We are urging the Scottish Government to act now to really ban hunting rather than waste an opportunity which has taken years of consultation and evidence gathering to reach this point,” he said.
“The longer officials spend procrastinating on this issue, the more freedom hunts will have to do exactly what they want out in the field as our footage clearly shows.”
Libby Anderson, a policy advisor with Scottish animal charity, OneKind, said: “This shocking footage shows an animal whose welfare is clearly compromised, probably exhausted, yet still forced to run for its life ahead of a pack of hounds. We don’t know if it then escaped or was shot or was torn to pieces by the dogs.”
She added: “What we do know is that people have reported scenes like this over and over again since 2002, even though the legislation prohibits lengthy pursuits. The infliction of such suffering on a fox for a cruel and outdated ‘sport’ simply cannot continue.”
OneKind welcomed last year’s commitment to reform the legislation. “But with Scottish Parliament elections just over a year away, time is running out,” added Anderson. “We urge the Scottish Government to act upon its commitment to ban fox hunting and introduce legislation that will truly protect Scotland’s foxes.”
However, Scottish Countryside Alliance director, Jamie Stewart, accused the League of the “deceitful practice of hiding in bushes” and “using heavily edited footage to suggest illegal practices”.
“The Jed Forest Hunt operates a legal pest control service to comply with the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. If there is any evidence to suggest illegal activity has taken place then we suggest that it is taken to the police to be investigated through the correct channels,” Stewart said.
“Choosing to release this video to the media as opposed to Police Scotland speaks volumes. No attempt was made to engage with Police Scotland to outline concerns of illegal activity. Instead the League maintains its high level campaign of releasing edited footage to the media in a bid to deceive the public and raise political pressure,” he continued.
“Scottish foxhound packs willingly signed up to the Scottish Government led code of practice which requires the pack to inform Police Scotland where they are going and who is involved. Not the usual practice of a criminal…we maintain a close working relationship with the Scottish Government as we continue to apply the letter of the law and the principles of the Scottish mounted foxhound code of practice in our protection of livestock , game and ground nesting birds.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are concerned by any evidence which may suggest that the current law on fox hunting is not robust or effective enough. That is why we are bringing forward a bill to strengthen the existing legislation in the current parliamentary session, as part of our strong commitment to safeguarding the welfare of all animals, including those in the wild.”
Police Scotland said: “Police Scotland received a report of an alleged illegal hunt being committed in the Scottish Borders area in December 2019. Enquiries are ongoing to establish any criminality.”
Figures recently published by the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland showed that 87 per cent of people in Scotland think fox hunting should be illegal. Only eight per cent said it should be made legal again.
This story was updated at 11.41 on 10 January 2020 to add a comment from Police Scotland.
Photo thanks to iStock/BackyardProduction