Nearly all of the 18,787 respondents to a public consultation on fox hunting want the law to be reformed.

The consultation, which closed five months ago, invited people to share their views on recommendations made by Lord Bonomy following his review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act.

Analysis of the consultation, published today by the Scottish Government, shows that between 94 and 98 percent of respondents indicated support, or agreement, with Lord Bonomy’s proposals for reform of the current legislation.

Responding to concerns about fox hunting, the Scottish Government appointed Lord Bonomy in December 2015, to carry out a review of the operation of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 (the 2002 Act).

The main purpose of the 2002 Act was to ban the use of dogs to chase and kill wild mammals.

However, it also includes a number of exceptions which allow the limited use of dogs for certain situations.

Lord Bonomy’s report, published in November 2016, set out recommendations for addressing inconsistencies and a lack of clarity in the language of the Act, and strengthening aspects of it to enable more effective detection, investigation and prosecution of alleged offences.

The Scottish Government then undertook a public consultation to gather views on Lord Bonomy’s suggested reforms.

“The huge response to this consultation is yet another demonstration of the strong public support for a fox hunting ban. The Scottish Government now has a clear and strong mandate to stand up to the hunting lobby and press ahead with a ban.” Harry Huyton, Director of OneKind

The Scottish Government’s analysis of the response said: “The consultation received 18,787 responses. Of these, the vast majority (18,497, 98%) were campaign responses submitted through five different campaigns. These campaigns generally supported the suggestions and recommendations made by Lord Bonomy and/or they called for a further strengthening of the law beyond the recommendations made.

“The remaining 290 ‘substantive’ (i.e. personalised) responses were submitted by 25 organisations and 265 individuals. All but two of the organisational respondents fell into one of two categories: those with an interest in countryside management and countryside sporting and animal welfare charities and campaign groups.”

The report continued: “Between 94% and 98% of respondents indicated support for or agreement with each of Lord Bonomy’s proposals for reform.

“These figures reflect the very large campaign response. Among the organisational respondents, animal welfare charities and campaign groups indicated support, whereas countryside management and sporting groups generally indicated opposition.”

Among those who backed tightening the law, a key concern was that the existing legislation allowed a person to avoid prosecution by claiming their dogs were out of control when they killed a wild mammal. This meant they could argue that the killing of the fox was not deliberately intended.

Many people said this loophole should be removed and that the legislation should require a hunter to be in control of their dogs at all times.

This group supported Lord Bonomy’s suggestion to introduce an offence of ‘intentionally or recklessly hunting a wild mammal with a dog’.

The report was welcomed by animal welfare charities.

Harry Huyton, Director of OneKind, said: “The huge response to this consultation is yet another demonstration of the strong public support for a fox hunting ban. The Scottish Government now has a clear and strong mandate to stand up to the hunting lobby and press ahead with a ban.”

“Fox hunting was meant to have been banned in Scotland in 2002 and yet it continues much as it did. A real ban is now long overdue and is needed not just to protect foxes from this cruel sport, but to preserve the credibility of the Scottish Government. When smoking in public places was banned it stopped. We don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that the fox hunting ban stops fox hunting.”

Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports, Scotland said: “It comes as no surprise that the vast majority of respondents support strengthening the law so it can finally do what it was intended, and really ban fox hunting in Scotland.

“Public support for a ban on fox hunting has been consistently high with very little difference in opinion across the rural urban divide. This consultation further cements the view that the Scottish public want to see an end to the cruelty of fox hunting in our countryside.”

A decision from the Scottish Government on its intentions for the legislation was expected in the spring but pressures on government time have delayed this.

Yesterday, Mairi Gougeon MSP was appointed to the role of Natural Environment Minister following Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet reshuffle. It is understood she will have input into the next steps over any reform of the law.