Animal welfare campaigners have expressed concern that fox hunts have been illegally hunting fox cubs ahead of new legislation coming into force.
Cub hunting, also known as autumn hunting and cubbing, involves hunting fox cubs with young foxhounds, to train dogs to chase and kill ahead of the main season.
This illegal activity – branded a “a dirty secret of the hunting world” – normally takes place in August, September and October, and is different from main season hunting, which begins in November.
Instead of being chased – as in regular hunts – cubs are hemmed into small woods and prevented from escaping by a pack of hounds, which scare them back if they try to flee.
The idea is to keep both cubs and hounds in the close confines of the wood so the young hounds will learn to hunt in thick tree cover and follow the cries of old hounds.
It is not unusual for cubs to be dug out and given to the hounds, thus giving them a taste of fox blood. Hunt staff normally wear tweeds when cubbing, rather than traditional red coats.
According to Glasgow Hunt Sabs, a group which disrupts fox hunting to protect foxes, a hunt we cannot name for legal reasons has been out cub hunting recently.
The League Against Cruel Sports says cub hunting is “widely practiced”.
Robbie Marsland, director at The League of Cruel Sports Scotland, told The Ferret that “hunters are about to get a very rude awakening if they think this hunting season is going to be the same as previous years”.
He added: “Cub hunting or autumn hunting as hunters like to call it is one of the most brutal aspects of fox hunting – using young foxes to train hounds to chase and kill. The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act was introduced to ensure traditional hunting, including cub hunting, becomes a thing of the past.
“The League will have a full team in the field this season to ensure the law is doing what it was intended to do – end the cruelty of hunting with dogs once and for all.”
Glasgow Hunt Sabs told The Ferret its members had been monitoring a hunt at weekends recently and claimed “there has been just old school cub hunting”.
The claim by Glasgow Hunt Sabs comes ahead of the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act coming into force on 3 October. The aim of the new legislation is to close loopholes which allowed the practice of killing wild mammals with packs of dogs.
The key change is that no more than two dogs can be used to flush out animals like foxes or hares unless a licence has been granted.
Some Scottish fox hunts disbanded following the tightening of legislation. It was reported earlier this year that Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Foxhounds would shut down after 252 years following the new curbs. Fife Foxhounds also reportedly folded.
However, other hunts may practice drag hunting, a sport in which a pack of hounds follow a scent such as aniseed over a pre-determined route. It originally developed in the UK in the early 1800s as a means of testing the speed and agility of hounds by laying a scent trail over a specified distance.
The drag is not laid in areas known to have foxes in them, and the location of the trail is known to the huntsman so he can stop the hounds if they accidentally follow a live quarry scent. These precautions mean it is rare for accidental fox kills to happen during drag hunting.
Robbie Marsland said: “If all Scottish hunts switched to drag hunting that would not only be testament to the success of the new legislation but also a resounding win for wildlife, which would no longer be subjected to the horrors of being hunted by a pack of hounds.
“However, we know the determination with which hunts have fought to keep their ‘sport’ alive so sadly I think this is a pipedream. If hunts are drag hunting, and doing so within the rules of the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association, then we would happily leave them to get on with it. Unfortunately, hunts sticking to rules is not something we’ve seen much of in Scotland.”
Commenting on the new legislation coming into force, Bob Elliot, director of the animal welfare charity, OneKind, said: “Today is a monumental day in Scotland. We are thankful to the Scottish Government for listening to the people of Scotland, who have been calling for a real fox hunting ban for more than 20 years, when it became clear that loopholes in the previous law had allowed fox hunting as ‘sport’ to continue.
“Ministers have been clear that chasing and killing wild mammals with packs of dogs has no place in a modern Scotland.”
The Countryside Alliance has been asked to comment.
Photo credit: iStock and I_Longworth