They are a familiar sight in Scotland’s cities and suburbs, even trotting casually through the garden at the heart of the Scottish Parliament from time to time.

But now Holyrood is being asked to give its foxes the same protection as mammals as rare and elusive as wild cats and pine martens, and finally end their hunting with dogs.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone yesterday published legislative plans to protect foxes and hares by outlawing their killing except under a strict licensing regime.

Her proposed member’s bill is also intended to end hunting with dogs by closing a series of loopholes in the 2002 Holyrood law which was meant to ban the practice, but is often circumvented.

Ms Johnstone said her Protection and Conservation of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill was partly in response to the SNP Government’s lack of action on the issue.

Although ministers promised in January to tighten up hunting law after a report on its shortcomings by Lord Bonomy, there have been no concrete proposals to date. 

The 2002 Holyrood Act ended the deliberate hunting of foxes with dogs, but permitted the use of dogs to flush foxes towards guns so they could be shot when it was safe to do so. 

Ms Johnstone said there was a widespread concern that this exception was being abused, with foxes flushed by dogs, but with guns absent or a reluctance to fire.

She said mounted hunts kill up to 800 foxes per year, and Lord Bonomy’s inquiry had found one-fifth of the foxes disturbed by hunts ended up killed by the dogs. 

Ms Johnstone’s bill would effectively end fox hunting by removing all exceptions in the law and create a new offence of “intentionally or recklessly” hunting a wild mammal with a dog.

Dog walkers whose pets chase a wild mammal are not affected.

The bill would also outlaw the hunting of brown hares and mountain hares all year round, not merely in the “close seasons”.

Around 26,000 mountain hares are killed each year on grouse moors, half reportedly to stop them passing the tick-borne louping-ill virus to the birds, 40 per cent for sport, and 10 per cent for forestry protection. 

The bill would allow foxes and hares to be killed for pest control, but only under licence and “as a last resort” that minimised suffering and protected any dependant young.  

Ms Johnstone gave the example of “emergency action by an authorised person if a fox was attacking livestock”. Licences would only be issued for specific purposes, subject to a public interest test, after non-lethal methods had failed, with the costs borne by licence holders.

Information on how many animals had been killed would be public.

Ms Johnstone, the MSP for Lothians, said: “Foxes and hares deserve our compassion and respect, yet they are routinely slaughtered across the country in huge numbers. 

“My proposal would give these animals the protection they so urgently need.

“Fox hunting was meant to have been banned in Scotland in 2002, but little has changed. 

“Hunts still go out, pursuing and killing foxes, and foxes are still being killed by hunting dogs. 

“ The Scottish Government and the First Minister herself have expressed their support for action but have been unable to find the time to bring forward a legislative proposal themselves. I’m confident they will get behind my proposal.”

Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “We are confident that hunting as we know it will soon be a thing of the past.”

But Jamie Stewart, director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, said: “Ms Johnstone is ignoring all the available evidence on fox management and welfare, and she knows it. 

“The protection of foxes is a ludicrous idea which is a slap in the face to every sheep and free range poultry farmer in the country. Fox control has always been focused on lowering the population to a level that makes attacks on livestock, game and ground nesting birds less likely. 

“Mrs Johnstone is now proposing that farmers will have to wait until a fox has killed a lamb before it will be legal to shoot it. Her proposed legislation jumps on every available bandwagon and has no justification on the basis of evidence or principle. The proposals would remove the rights of farmers and land managers across Scotland to control foxes effectively and protect their livelihoods, with no evidential justification whatsoever.”

Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon said the Government was committed to animal welfare and would soon consider an expert review on grouse moor management, including mountain hare culls.

On fox hunting, she said: “Not only will it be taking forward many of the recommendations in Lord Bonomy’s report, we will go further by implementing measures that will do more to clarify and strengthen the Protection of Wild Mammals Act. In doing so, we will work constructively with any MSPs to achieve our objectives.”