fox hunts

Fox hunts accused of using dogs to chase animals despite ban

Animal welfare campaigners claim new laws to prevent illegal fox hunting with packs of dogs are being flouted.

Footage taken by activists from the League Against Cruel Sports show hunts out with packs of foxhounds during the latest hunting season, which ended in March.

Hunts can get round fox hunting rules by claiming to be “drag hunting” – a form of equestrian sport, where horses, riders and hounds follow the trail of an artificial scent laid down by human volunteers.

It offers an alternative to fox hunting and because the route is predetermined the hounds can be kept safely away from livestock, roads and railway lines.

But animal welfare investigators – speaking to The Ferret – said they saw no artificial scents being laid in the footage which they have sent to cops.

The hunts –were filmed covertly by The League Against Cruel Sports for six months during the first hunting season after legislation came into force which tightens the law on fox hunting.

Six incidents have been reported to Police Scotland and one person has been charged with three hunting offences. Another man was arrested but police said he was released “pending further enquiry.”

The League, which has produced a new report on hunting in Scotland, is urging the Scottish Government to use its executive powers to “clamp down on bogus drag hunting”.

The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act came into force last October and means hunters cannot use packs of hounds to flush out wild mammals unless they have a licence.

It repeals and replaces the Protection of Wild Mammals Act, which was passed in 2002.

The original legislation allowed dogs to flush foxes out from cover as long as they were then shot, rather than killed by hounds – and providing the hunt was to protect livestock or ground-nesting birds, or to prevent the spread of disease.

Under the new bill, it remains an offence to chase and or kill a wild mammal using a dog, but the key change is that no more than two dogs can be used to stalk or flush out animals from cover unless a licence has been granted.

The rules also prohibit trail hunting. This is a form of simulated fox hunting where a fox-based scent is laid and followed by mounted fox hunts.

The government recognised that farmers need to be able to protect their livestock and so the new bill includes a licensing scheme to allow more dogs to be used in certain circumstances.

But animal welfare groups expressed concern that the new law could be exploited and The League has secretly filmed the activities of five hunts since October last year using cameras and drones.

It said one hunt apparently used more than two dogs to hunt foxes, and three hunts apparently used two dogs to hunt foxes with no guns present.

The report says: “There is a danger that ‘drag hunting’ or ‘simulated hunting’ is being used as a smokescreen for illegal fox hunting.

“Simulated hunting” is a term used by at least one hunt which, according to The League, uses the same foxhounds previously used to search for foxes prior to change in the law.

Hunts filmed by The League include the Berwickshire Hunt which has described itself as a “drag hunt” since last October.

The League’s report said the hunt had been filmed, on more than one occasion, “taking their pack of foxhounds into fox habitats (gorse etc) that is too dense and impenetrable for a human to lay an artificial scent in”.

It said that filmed evidence as well as statements had been handed to Police Scotland.

Robbie Marsland, The League’s director for Scotland and Northern Ireland, told The Ferret: “Scottish fox hunts appear to be trying to ride a coach and horses through the new law.

“Whether they’re sneaking around with multiple dogs or saying they are drag hunting, it’s good news that Police Scotland are responding to the league’s evidence and that at least one person has been charged with illegal hunting. This will send a cautionary clarion call to anyone who thinks they can get round this new law.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Since the introduction of the Hunting with Dogs Act in October 2023, we have investigated six reports of illegal fox-hunting.

“A 29-year-old man has been charged with three hunting offences and is the subject of a report to the Procurator Fiscal.

“A second man, aged 55 years, was arrested following a report of three further hunting offences. He has been released pending further enquiry.”

However, the Scottish Countryside Alliance – which supports fox hunting – denied the claims.

A spokesperson said: “This is complete nonsense. The video (ie footage of one incident involving the Berwickshire Hunt) is evidence of nothing other than dog walking and the Scottish Government has not yet got round to banning that.

“The new legislation is completely unnecessary, but it does include a licensing scheme for fox control which is being used to protect lambs and threatened wildlife all over Scotland”.

The Berwickshire Hunt has been asked to comment.

Ariane Burgess, Scottish Greens MSP, said: “The message from the government and Police Scotland must be clear: nobody is above the law. And that message must be backed up with rigorous enforcement.

“It has no place in a modern Scotland and our work will continue until it’s stamped out for good.”

Whether they’re sneaking around with multiple dogs or saying they are drag hunting, it’s good news that Police Scotland are responding to the league’s evidence and that at least one person has been charged with illegal hunting.

Robbie Marsland, The League

A Scottish Government spokesperson claimed that the Hunting with Dogs Act has “closed the legal loopholes that have allowed the damaging practice of illegal fox hunting to continue”. They added: “Farmers and land managers can apply for permission to undertake hunting with more than two dogs in limited circumstances. Licences can only be granted in order to support significant or long-term environmental benefits or to prevent serious damage, when no other humane options are suitable.

“All licence applications are rigorously scrutinised and where licences have been granted, both NatureScot and Police Scotland must be notified before any activity is undertaken, and can attend to monitor compliance. NatureScot and Police Scotland have carried out a number of visits to ensure that where dogs are being used to hunt foxes under licence, those doing so are acting in accordance with their licence and they will continue to do so.

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Main image: Anne Coatesy/iStock

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