In 2002, the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act sought to ban foxhunting in Scotland, however 20 years on from this ban, new legislation has been passed by the Scottish Parliament to prevent the chasing and killing of all wild mammals for sport. The new Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill was passed in January 2023, designed to end illegal hunts by preventing hunters being able to use packs of hounds to flush out wild mammals, unless they have a licence. To do so, a new two-dog limit for all use of dogs while hunting will be introduced, as well as a ban on the practice of trail hunting.
The new bill creates an offence if a person “hunts a wild mammal using a dog” and further, landowners could also commit an offence if they “knowingly cause or permit another person to hunt a wild mammal using a dog” on their land. If found guilty of committing an offence under the new bill, you could be liable to imprisonment for up to five years, or a £40,000 fine (or both).
However, there are some exceptions, and it’s important that you know the lawful purpose for flushing mammals to avoid being liable of an offence.
It is recognised that to prevent serious damage to livestock, woodland or crops, or to prevent the spread of disease or to protect human health, the use of one or two dogs to “search for, stalk or flush from cover a wild mammal, with the intention of killing it” is allowed. You can also use two dogs to retrieve a wild mammal that has been killed. In practice, this could cover those using one or two dogs to flush rabbits or foxes and could also cover most deer stalking situations where a dog is used to detect deer and follow up a shot deer.
Similarly, section 6 of the bill is the exception for falconry, game shooting and deer stalking, which allows the use of no more than two dogs to search for, stalk or flush from cover a wild mammal, with the intention of providing quarry for falconry, game shooting or deer stalking. Although game shooting as a sport may involve shooting birds as well as wild mammals, the use of dogs in that context won’t fall within the ambit of the bill as dogs are being used to flush game birds, and not to hunt wild mammals.
Further, it is not an offence when there has been accidental chasing of a mammal if genuine efforts to call the dog back were made.
The key change is that no more than two dogs can be used to stalk or flush out animals from cover, unless a licence has been granted. The Scottish Government has said that licences would be granted for the use of more than two dogs for a “specified purpose” such as the protection of livestock, crops etc. in certain limited circumstances. The licensing scheme will probably be administered by NatureScot and applicants would have to demonstrate to them that there are no satisfactory alternative methods of control available. This will include both lethal and non-lethal solutions.
The example provided by the Scottish Government is that if the purpose is to prevent serious damage to livestock, other solutions could include installing animal-proof fencing, shooting, lamping, snaring or using one or two dogs to flush the wild mammal to allow it to be shot or killed by a bird of prey. However, if it is determined that there are no effective alternative methods of control available, a licence may be granted, and it would last for a maximum period of 14 consecutive days.
Trail hunting (where a dog is directed to find and follow an animal-based scent that has been laid for that purpose) is to be made an offence under the new bill. However, there is an exception when an animal-based scent has been laid to train a dog for a lawful purpose, such as to train deer dogs to follow-up wounded deer, and reasonable steps are taken to ensure no wild mammals are pursued, injured or killed during this training.
If you have any questions about the new Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill, we’re here to help. Please contact Sarah Cheape or your usual Anderson Strathern contact if you’d benefit from specialist advice on this topic.
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