PRESSURE is mounting on the Scottish Government to strengthen fox hunting legislation and outlaw the use of hounds after more than 30,000 people responded to a consultation which closed last month.

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 permits the use of dogs to flush out foxes to waiting guns but it has been claimed huntsmen still set packs of hounds on fleeing animals which are torn apart when caught. The Scottish Countryside Alliance has insisted “legitimate” hunts work within the law.

Celebrities Ricky Gervais, Chris Packham, Bill Oddie and Peter Egan have this week joined Scottish animal welfare charities in urging the use of hounds to be outlawed ahead of the expected publication of Scottish Government consultation responses next week.

Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham launched the survey last year after former judge Lord Bonomy’s review recommended strengthening the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. The consultation closed on January 31 and responses must be published within four weeks.

Animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports told the Sunday Herald 30,000 people responded via their website and the charity is now planning a demonstration For the Foxes in Edinburgh in March.

Actor Ricky Gervais, who is backing the campaign, said: “It is utterly sickening that the primitive, horrific pastime of chasing foxes with packs of hounds is still happening routinely in this country with little or no means of bringing to justice those who inflict such cruelty on wildlife. The Scottish Government has an opportunity to make this appalling 'sport' go away so it's high time it stopped dragging its feet and got on with improving the law to ban fox hunting once and for all.”

Conservationist Bill Oddie said: “Politicians know the facts. By not supporting a ban, they indirectly declare themselves to be pro-hunting. Moreover, the anti-hunt politicians must feel frustrated by how long contentious debates are purposely slowed and protracted in order to delay decisions which need to be instant.”

Downtown Abbey star Peter Egan also called on the Scottish Government to “end the cruelty”. He added, “The awful business should've been dealt with in Scotland in 2002”.

Naturalist Chris Packham said it is “quite staggering” that people in Scotland “routinely go out with the intention of terrorising wild animals by chasing them to the point of exhaustion and brutally killing them”.

He added: “Sadly, in Scotland the law has proven not to be sufficient to stop this horrific behaviour.

"Fox hunting has no place in modern society and now is the time to put it firmly where it belongs – in the past.”

Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said a demonstration will be held at the Scottish Parliament on March 24.

“Recent polling shows us that over 80 per cent of Scots are opposed to fox hunting and this will be their opportunity to demonstrate that regardless of which party you vote for or whether you live in the town or the countryside – Scotland is against fox hunting.

“In 2002 Scotland led the way in being the first to try to ban fox hunting in the UK. Developments over the coming months will show us if Scotland will lead the way again by the being the first country in the UK to really ban fox hunting – for good.”

The Sunday Herald asked for an interview with Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, but a Scottish Government spokesman said the minister could not comment until consultation responses are analysed.

The Scottish Government spokesman added: “We are currently evaluating the very large number of responses received to our consultation on Lord Bonomy’s recommendations for legislative reform. We have also established a stakeholder group to develop a new code of practice and assess the feasibility of a new monitoring scheme.

“We remain committed to ensuring the highest welfare standards for all animals, including those in the wild, and encourage everyone to notify Police Scotland if anyone is suspected of breaking the law."


Undercover investigators employed by the League Against Cruel Sports have gathered hours of filmed footage which they claim show hunts in Scotland flouting the law.

This has been denied by the Scottish Countryside Alliance director Jamie Stewart who insists “legitimate packs” work within the law.

The existing law only allows for dogs to be used to push a fox out of cover so that it can be shot dead.

However, one league investigator, who spoke to the Sunday Herald on the condition that he is not named, believes huntsmen still set dogs on foxes.

He said: “Time and time again, during our covert observations, we have seen packs of dogs being entered into cover, be it a patch of gorse or woodland, but we have seen no evidence of guns waiting to shoot any foxes appearing from the cover.

“What we do see however, are hunt horse riders positioned by the cover being searched, looking out for foxes that may escape. These strategic positions should of course have people with guns standing by and ready to shoot foxes, but the lack of guns and the positioning of hunt members, to alert the huntsman they have seen a fox trying to get away, suggests that the intention is to allow the dogs to pursue, hunt and ultimately kill the fox and not to shoot the fox as it appears from cover.

“Searching for foxes within a cover, using dogs, with no guns positioned to shoot any foxes is hunting and is unlawful, even if a fox isn’t found.”

The investigator’s covert filming led to the conviction of two huntsmen last year for deliberately hunting a fox with dogs.

The league investigator added: “The fox was located and could have easily been shot instantly and humanely, but instead the dogs were called back and were made to stand a few metres away from the hole before the fox was released for these dogs to hunt. Can you imagine the suffering and distress this would have caused to the foxes involved?

“This case not only clearly demonstrates a desire to see dogs attack wild animals, in this case a fox, but also shows how confident hunts have become in thinking that they can get away with such an act of wildlife crime and in broad daylight.”


Sixteen years ago Scotland led the way in becoming the first country in the UK to introduce a law which was intended to ban packs of hounds chasing and killing wild animals across the countryside. This was an overwhelmingly popular move – except for a small number determined for it to be business as usual.

Despite the 2002 ban the 10 registered fox hunts in Scotland have been "riding to hounds" two or three times a week between November and April each year in a way which could easily be confused with hunting before the law came into force.

The law which supposedly bans hunting is in fact a very simple law intended to do what its title suggests, protect wild mammals from being hunted with dogs.

However, despite its simplicity the law contains a series of complex exceptions which render the law useless. These exceptions mean, for example, hounds can still be used to search for foxes in cover and then flush them out into the open where they can then be shot, known as "flushing to guns". Another exception states that if a hunter attempts to shoot a fox and only wound rather than kill, they can then send the hounds after the fox to dispatch it.

Hunting has more or less continued uninterrupted for the last 16 years with hunts claiming they are hunting within the confines of the law by using one or more of the many exceptions in the legislation to allow them to use their packs of hounds to flush foxes out of cover to be shot by waiting guns. The reality is that the waiting guns, in most cases, are nowhere to be seen with a strong suggestion that hunts are continuing to let their hounds tear foxes apart.

A recent Government-commissioned review made recommendations about how the law should be changed. However, these recommendations fall short of recommending that the "flushing to guns" exception should be removed.

Robbie Marsland is Director of League Against Cruel Sports Scotland


The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 which ended hunting with dogs had been forgotten for 13 years by everyone outside the countryside before politics intervened. Scotland’s registered mounted foxhound packs adapted to the changes in law, specifically through the introduction of gunmen and continued to use their hounds to find foxes which were shot in accordance with exceptions in the 2002 Act.

Hunting, however, has long been an almost entirely political issue and in 2015 it was a proposal by the Westminster Government to amend the law in England and Wales which brought it back to the fore. Prior to that no one in Scotland had the least concern about the operation of the act, no one had suggested it was anything other than a successful piece of legislation and no one had proposed any amendments to it.

As a result of that Westminster debate, however, the Scottish Government asked Lord Bonomy to review the legislation. The history of such inquiries into hunting, such as the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs Committee report and the Independent Government Inquiry into hunting in England and Wales, is that objective consideration of the evidence supports the case for hunting.

Lord Bonomy’s review was no different. He found that: “The use of packs of hounds to flush out foxes to be shot remains a significant pest control measure, both to control the general level of foxes in an area as well as to address particular problems affecting a farm or estate”.

He also rejected the main argument of the anti-hunting movement which wanted a limit on the number of dogs that could be used to find and flush out foxes saying that “searching and flushing by two dogs would not be as effective as that done by a full pack of hounds…imposing such a restriction could seriously compromise effective pest control in the country, particularly on rough and hilly ground and in extensive areas of dense cover such as conifer woodlands”.

Having rejected any arguments for restricting the practice of using packs of dogs for pest control Lord Bonomy did make a number of recommendations to address the “perception” that had suddenly developed that some people using packs of hounds were not keeping to the exceptions in the law.

Most importantly hunts are in full support of the proposal to revisit self-regulation and have introduced protocols to meet Lord Bonomy’s recommendations whilst a Code of Practice is agreed with animal welfare groups and Police Scotland.

Questions about the need for this review might remain, but the main issue cannot be under debate. There is absolutely no case for further restrictions on the practice of using dogs for pest control and those playing politics with the issue are involved in a pointless pursuit.

Jamie Stewart is director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance