NEW LEGISLATION on fox hunting was announced during a ministerial statement on animal welfare in the Scottish parliament.

Minister for rural affairs and the natural environment, Mairi Gougeon, explained her intention to bring forward a bill that will implement changes proposed by the Right Honourable Lord Bonomy’s review on the subject.

In addition, she proposed a limit on the number of dogs which can be deployed against wild animals to two, which is already the case in England and Wales. However, Ms Gougeon will explore the option of a licensing scheme to permit the use of more than two dogs in areas where pest control is a real concern.

“The welfare of animals in Scotland, whether domestic, farmed, or wild, is one of this government’s highest priorities and so, when it became apparent that legislation introduced in 2002 to protect foxes from unnecessary hunting wasn’t having the desired effect, we wanted to take firm action,” Ms Gougeon explained.

“However, not only do we hope to implement the vast majority of Lord Bonomy’s recommendations, we will be going further. We’re going to strengthen our current legislation and plan to introduce measures that go beyond the rest of the UK in terms of protecting the welfare of our wild mammals,” she concluded.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg commented: "If any proposed licensing system makes it onerous for fox control with pack operations in dense woodland, vital foot packs for legitimate pest control will just give up.

"Scotland has one of the highest fox densities in Europe. We say, on one hand, we want to save the Curlew, then we do this. Maybe this shows where priorities lie. It is another nail for important rural industries and rare ground-nesting wildlife that Scotland has a global responsibility to protect.

"Reducing the ability to control foxes in forestry will be a disaster for wildlife and farm stock. Two hounds will simply not work. It’s a totally ineffective tool. We are already seeing Forestry Commission denying people access to woods for legitimate fox (pest) control because it has become too political," claimed Mr Hogg. "This will pave the way for a complete lock-down and is poorly thought through.

"I think there is a growing awakening amongst rural workers that they are becoming political bargaining chips and I think we can expect a very strong reaction to this."