Foxes and hares endure another year of slaughter due to loopholes

Another fox hunting season came to an end in Scotland recently, with investigations into illegal activity by a number of hunts.

Most people would be forgiven for thinking that fox hunting was no longer an activity which required police intervention, given that hunting with dogs was banned in Scotland over 15 years ago.

Yet, hunts continue to take place across Scotland using a loophole which allows “flushing with hounds”. This practice involves using dogs to “flush” a fox from it’s cover to be shot by waiting huntsmen. This loophole has been exploited to enable hunting with dogs in the traditional sense, making it difficult to enforce the law.

The League Against Cruel Sports have used animal welfare investigators to film hunts throughout Scotland and the footage they captured often shows hounds running across open fields in pursuit of foxes, followed by huntsmen on horseback, with no guns in sight.

One of the many loopholes which is being exploited by hunts and their riders is that which allows a fox to be killed by dogs if it is said to be injured. As a result, many hunts will claim that they are chasing a wounded fox, which is almost impossible to prove once the dogs have killed the animal and torn it to pieces.

The latest investigations by the police show that the law is not strong enough. The footage provided by the League Against Cruel Sports has been handed to the police, who are investigating hunts men from a number of hunts for potentially illegal activity. Clearly, the loopholes which exist and the difficulty in enforcement mean that only a full ban on fox hunting will end this barbaric practice.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government ran a consultation on reviewing the existing law around fox hunting. Sadly, this did not include any proposals for a full ban. However, the Scottish Greens called for people to respond to the consultation demanding a full ban and I would like to thank everyone who took the time to respond and show the strength of feeling on this issue. We await the results with great interest!

And it’s not only foxes who are the victims of loopholes in the law – recent footage shot by animal charity OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports shows what I described as a “sickening slaughter” of mountain hares by gamekeepers on Scottish grouse moors in the Cairngorms.

Large-scale culling of mountain hares is routine on many sporting estates in the belief that it protects grouse against viruses spread by ticks but there is no scientific evidence to back that up. We need to ban these culls.

The voluntary restraint urged by the government's nature agency has proved inadequate. I have previously suggested ministers use their powers to introduce a nature conservation order to prohibit culls. Scotland is a nation of animal lovers and we should all be outraged that the government continues to drag its feet on ending animal cruelty.

In response to my questioning in Parliament, the First Minister Nichola Sturgeon agreed that the large scale culling of mountain hares was “not acceptable” and said that the Scottish Government would explore all options to prevent these culls taking place in the future.

The Scottish Greens believe a full ban on the culling of mountain hares is required. As a Species Champion for the Mountain Hare and Brown Hare, I will pressure the First Minister to make sure her plans to address the culling of mountain hares are as strong as they can be.

Likewise, a full ban on fox hunting would avoid the loopholes which have resulted in cruel and unnecessary slaughter.

I am currently working to bring a bill before parliament which will properly ban fox hunting in Scotland once and for all. It may not be in place before the hunting season reopens at the end of the year, but I am determined to make sure that protection will finally be in place to prevent future slaughter.