Licencing system key to Hunting Bill impact

The Scottish Government have, for some time, been determined to stop fox hunting, and the Hunting with Dogs, (Scotland) Bill that was approved by the Scottish Parliament on 24 January is the conclusion of that determination writes Ian Duncan Millar, member and chair of the Atholl and Breadalbane fox control society. 

The Bill is clearly aimed at the tradition of riding to hounds that has been carried on since time immemorial, but in trying to stop that activity, there have been unintended consequences.

One of these consequences is that the important service of predator control provided by the several foot packs in Scotland have been caught in the crossfire.  So during the passage of the Bill through Parliament we have been working with Scottish Government to create a licensing system within the legislation so that the foot packs can continue to serve members.

That service is the provision of a specially trained pack of dogs, and their trainer, to find and flush out foxes from difficult, hilly, rough and forested terrain, to waiting guns who quickly and humanely despatch the predator.

Farmers and land managers need this service for several reasons.

The foremost is to protect sheep and especially young lambs from predation. Such losses are difficult for the welfare of the sheep, and challenging for the mental and financial health of the shepherd who has looked after his sheep with care and attention.  

All farmers, in addition to making a meaningful contribution to the food production of Scotland, care about their land and wildlife, and there is a knock on benefit for biodiversity and the environment from controlling foxes with additional protection for ground nesting birds, of which many, like curlew, capercaillie, hen harrier, skylark, or lapwing, are on the red list of endangered species.

While the supporters of the Bill were driven by political ideology, we did eventually persuade the Scottish Government of the need for predator control, from which the licence system evolved. 

NatureScot are the body charged with administering the licence and we are working with them to ensure the licence system can deliver for the needs of agriculture, the environment, and the Bill without being too difficult and bureaucratic.

As an Industry, farmers are disappointed that the Scottish Government continues to discriminate against agriculture in favour of the environment.

Despite the unquestionable fact that all food needs a farmer, the Bill states that where a licence is required for agricultural purposes, then that licence will permit the foot pack to operate for up to 14 days in a six month period, yet where the use of dogs is required for an environmental purpose, controlling foxes to preserve ground nesting birds, the licence is available under the Bill for two years, with no limitation on active days.  

Where predators are controlled to protect sheep, then the wildlife and biodiversity benefit too, likewise controlling foxes for environmental purposes will benefit farms if there are any within the vicinity.

There are other unintended consequences in the Bill, particularly for rough shooting and the control of rabbits, both being activities which, if carried out in the wrong way, could fall foul of the terms of this Bill.

The Bill will become law later this year, so we must adapt and learn to live within its scope whilst continuing to work towards a pragmatic licencing system.

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