ACTIVISTS have called for a controversial loophole in anti- fox hunting laws that allows hounds to flush wild animals out from underground burrows to be closed.

The use of hounds to coax foxes into the direct line of gunfire has been called a “decoy for traditional hunting practices” and must be outlawed, campaigners say.

Since Scotland became the first in the UK to ban traditional fox hunting and hare coursing in 2002, it has been illegal to hunt a wild mammal with a dog.

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But hunts in Scotland can continue to kill foxes by practising an exemption to the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act called “flushing to guns”, which means using dogs to chase foxes from beneath cover in order to shoot them.

A recent review of the law by Lord Bonomy, commissioned by the Scottish Government, called for landowners to be held legally responsible for hunts on their property, with hunt activities observed by independent monitors and governed by a new code of practice.

The report said there was lawbreaking under the ban, and further argued that current legislation “complicates unduly” the detection, investigation and prosecution of alleged offences.

Now Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “The Government has a real chance to end fox hunting in Scotland – for good.

“Wild animals are no more protected from being hunted to the point of exhaustion and brutally killed by a pack of hounds than they were pre-2002. We agree with Lord Bonomy that the ‘flushing to guns’ exemption is used as a decoy for traditional hunting and, when used by mounted fox hunts, has little or nothing to do with pest control. Flushing to guns should be removed as an option for mounted hunts.”

Lord Bonomy said there were grounds for suspecting that illegal hunting may still take place, and that those suspicions should be addressed.

He suggested that hunt monitors could submit a report of their observations to Scottish ministers, with an annual summary included in the Wildlife Crime in Scotland Annual Report.

The Countryside Alliance, which represents hunts, said it was pleased the inquiry had “recognised the importance of gun packs for fox control and rejected unjustified calls for further restrictions”.

But it said it does not believe there is a significant problem with the enforcement of the current legislation.

Scottish Countryside Alliance Director Scotland James Stewart said: “Those using dogs to flush foxes and other wild mammals to guns under the law have always been open and transparent and therefore have nothing to fear.

“They have been subject to hundreds of hours of covert monitoring and filming, none of which has produced evidence of law breaking.”