Significant win for animal welfare as Scottish Parliament votes to pass new hunting legislation

Press release from League Against Cruel Sports (24th January 2023):

The Scottish Parliament has today (Tuesday) voted to pass the new Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill. The vote was passed by 90 for and 30 against, with no abstentions. 

The new legislation was introduced last year, two decades after a failed attempt by the Scottish Parliament to ban hunting with the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, back in 2002.

The new Bill will bring into force a number of measures which significantly curtail mounted hunting activity, including reducing the number of dogs which can be used to hunt a wild mammal to just two, instead of a full pack, and reducing the number of dogs which can be used below ground to just one.

The Bill also includes a pre-emptive ban on trail hunting. Trail hunting is a sport which was created after hunting was banned in England and Wales following the passing of the Hunting Act in 2004. Its inclusion in the Bill means trail hunting can not be established north of the border.

Video footage from the League Against Cruel Sports shows a hunter throwing a fox to a baying pack of hounds (Credit: here)

The League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, has welcomed the new legislation. Director Robbie Marsland said:

As of today, Scotland has the most robust law anywhere in the UK to prevent the cruelty of chasing and killing wild mammals for sport – and this is something to celebrate. Despite a persistent campaign from those resolute to keep hunting alive in the Scottish countryside, the Scottish Government has been determined to end the sport of hunting, a sentiment which has today been supported by the Parliament.

The passing of the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill now provides an opportunity to right the wrongs of the last two decades and close the loopholes which allowed hunters to continue with hunting as though the law didn’t exist.

The inclusion of a ban on trail hunting is a significant victory for Scotland, meaning hunts will not be able to use this so-called sport as a smokescreen for traditional hunting.

The new Bill also includes a licensing system which will allow for a full pack of hounds to be used in certain circumstances. The detail of the scheme has yet to be developed but animal welfare campaigners have concerns this has the potential to be exploited.

Robbie Marsland added:

After twenty years of flawed legislation it is critical that this Bill is not simply a way of creating new loopholes for hunters to exploit, and the League is yet to be convinced the licensing scheme won’t do this.

Despite the best of intentions to ban hunting, the determination and deep rooted defiance among those who wish to chase and kill foxes should not be underestimated. The League will work closely with Nature Scot and other stakeholders to ensure the licensing system is robust, effective and fit for purpose.

The Hunting with Dogs Bill is expected to receive royal assent in the next few weeks and come into force in the autumn. 


This is a significant win for campaigners in Scotland, including REVIVE coalition members the League Against Cruel Sports and OneKind, and will increase pressure on the Westminster Government to follow suit.

The proposed licensing scheme, which will allow the use of more than two dogs in “certain limited circumstances” has undoubtedly been brought in to help fend off any legal challenges but the details and effectiveness of the licences remain to be seen.

For example, will the licensing authority NatureScot think that footpacks running amok in public forests, killing foxes to protect gamebirds on grouse moors (e.g. see here) is an appropriate and licensable activity? We’ll see.

There’s plenty of media coverage of this story today:

Scottish Government (here)

OneKind (here)

Scottish Greens (here)

BBC News (here)

STV News (here)

The National (here)

Daily Record (here)

The Times (here)

25 thoughts on “Significant win for animal welfare as Scottish Parliament votes to pass new hunting legislation”

  1. Had to laugh at the “ground-nesting birds” fiction. Yet more pathetic barrel scraping from the Countryside Areliars.

    Forgive my ignorance, but is it possible that this bill can be stymied by Sunak and his corrupt mob?

    1. And guess where the 96 votes against Amendments 19, 37, 38, 44, 46 and 93 came from? Lib Dems, Tories and the SNP:-(
      Or the 94 votes against Amendments 25, 31, 47, 56, 74, 80, 83, 84, 85 and 86? Lib Dems, Tories and the SNP again:-(
      Or the 92 votes against Amendments 28, 34, 50 and 106? Lib Dems, Tories and the SNP:-(
      Or the 95 votes against Amendments 39, 40, 59, 60, 61, 64, 70, 72, 73 and 82? Lib Dems, Tories and the SNP:-(
      Or the 93 votes against Amendments 49, 51, 52, 53, 81 and 105? Lib Dems, Tories and the SNP:-(
      Or the 90 votes against Amendment 54? Lib Dems, Tories and the SNP:-(
      Or the 91 votes against Amendment 78? Lib Dems, Tories and the SNP:-(

      Or who voted in favour of Amendments 69 and 98 with 92 votes? The Lib Dems, Tories and the SNP:-(

      The Tories voted consistently against the Bill – and against strengthening it – but in favour of weakening it. However, a solid block of SNP, Tories and the Lib Dems voted many, many times against strengthening it, and sometimes in favour of weakening it.

      Only Labour and the Greens voted consistently in favour of the Bill, and in favour of strengthening it, and against weakening it.

      So, Hooray for them!

        1. It is always good to know exactly how MSPs vote when it comes to crunch time. Considering this may be thought as an issue of conscience, I was somewhat surprised at how every vote resulted in MSPs voting along strict party lines.

          I took my figures from the published draft minutes, because they were the only records available at the time. The official minutes have now been published, but I have not checked for any changes – I doubt there are any of significance.

          This lays out the somewhat sorry story of what might have been:

          and it continues here:

          So long as these draft minutes remain available, my figures may be checked. It is worth reading (at least some of) the debate (it is very long)…

  2. It may be something, but I fail to see how it will prevent the slaughter of wildlife for fun, particularly when licensing can be used to overcome the two people only rule. These thugs will doubtless easily come up with some pathetic excuse to get around it. Only an outright ban will ever stop the primitive savages involved. Sorry but this seems to me to be not very much to celebrate.

  3. Great news to hear but I am again dismayed that ‘under licence’ permitted by NatureScot they will continue their old ways to hunt with packs of dogs to kill foxes.

    1. You only need to look at the situation with Beavers, where ‘legal protection’ saw NS issue licences to kill like confetti

  4. Whilst I acknowledge that this legislation is definitely superior to the botched 2002 act (perhaps deliberately botched as it was in England in 2004?) – particularly the prohibition of the fiction of ‘trail hunting’ – I have, like many others, very serious concerns about the dreaded word ‘licensing’ for a couple of reasons. As Colin Smyth (Lab.) stated in his submissions to the debate, if the primary purpose of this legislation is to ban the cruelty of ‘sport’ hunting foxes with a pack of dogs, what happens to that cruelty when a licence is issued to use a pack of dogs? I think this licensing nonsense is a sop to the landowner-nobbled wing of the SNP i.e. pure politics. The other BIG issue with licensing is the fact that NatureScot are tasked with issuing/enforcing/reviewing these licences. The Hunt Sabs will definitely still be needed on the ground to see what the fun-killers are up to as NatureScot are hopeless and/or under-resourced and the police are disinterested in illegal fox hunting or apt to turn a corrupt, blind eye unless it becomes a public order issue where they can nick a few Sabs instead of enforcing the law.

    Another very serious issue with the new act is that it still allows a dog to be used underground i.e. the provenance of those lovely guardians of the countryside the ‘terrier men’. This is indefensible from a cruelty perspective – both to dog and fox – and therefore utterly unacceptable.

    The exemption of ‘powers of entry’ on Crown Land is both baffling and appalling i.e. the police have to seek permission to enter Crown land to do their effing job. WTF? This is particularly galling in that Charles III did his worst to nobble the 2004 Hunting Act in England and is a well-known bloodsports enthusiast. A big reason for an independent, monarchy-free Scotland ASAP…

    When it comes to effective direct action against hunting with dogs it is the Hunt Sabs that are the true heroes here and I suspect that that will still be the case as the hunters attempt to ruthlessly exploit the remaining loopholes in the Act. The political heroes in this are the Greens led by the marvelously feisty Ariane Burgess and the doggedly-determined Colin Smyth of Scottish Labour. I applaud their aim to have a truly watertight Hunting With Dogs act in Scotland one fine day.

      1. Thanks Ruth but I was indeed aware that it was not ‘new’ – I remember the Sandringham debacle. I just wanted to highlight this awful fact in terms of this Act and the Monarch’s well-documented support for hunting with dogs. Also, I think many folk are not always aware of the reach of the monarch(y) when it comes to bloodsports.

  5. I’d like to see it as a win but two dogs above ground and one below can still savage a fox. Why all this pussy-footing around for god’s sake? Still of the view that only land reform will sort out the wanton destruction of our wildlife and countryside….

  6. In the area of the Highlands where I live gamekeepers previous to this new Hunting Bill used packs of hounds to flush foxes from dense woodland to shooters waiting outside with shotguns. I have never heard of a fox being caught by the hounds because that is not the purpose of the hunt.

    Although I abhor cruelty to any animal I believe that there is nothing wrong with this method of fox control as long as the foxes are killed cleanly by the waiting guns. It is certainly far better than controlling foxes by using snares or terriers which can cause suffering to foxes.

    The fox control by flushing by hounds is conducted outside the nesting season for birds so there is no disturbance to them.

    The control of foxes in these woodlands also benefits waders and other ground nesting birds in the surrounding agricultural land and moorland.

    One year I had a fox clear a field of the eggs and chicks of several pairs of nesting lapwings in the course of one night. The lapwings deserted the site and did not return the next year.

    1. Ha! Stop it! How much of the ground nesting bird fiction are we meant to take? Was it not a poisoned lapwing that those blood brothers of the countryside, gamekeepers, used to kill a bird of prey recently. And not just kill. These birds die in such agony that their legs extend over their heads.
      Those that revel in wildlife blood don’t give a flying f**k for anything they can’t kill for fun, or money, or both.
      incidentally, driving a fox to guns does not imply a simple easy pain -free death for the animal. I expect many are wounded and left to it.
      Wouldn’t the answer be that farmers behave responsibly and protect their wards?
      So please, enough of these contrived convoluted justifications. People are not as stupid as you evidentally imagine, hence the new law!

      1. Hello Steve,

        The predation of ground nesting birds by foxes is not fiction as far as I am concerned>

        I study merlins and hen harriers and quite regularly find the nests predated by foxes.

        This includes adult merlins and harriers while sitting on the nest and also eggs and chicks.

        When it is large chicks that are predated often all you find at the nest is bitten off feathers or legs. Not a pretty sight for a raptor lover.

        I usually curse the fox out loud when I come across this kind of carnage but I wouldn’t kill a fox myself if I was given the opportunity because I admire this beautiful animal. However, I accept the need for controlling foxes to protect other wildlife and domestic stock.

  7. Hi James, regards the group of gamekeepers you are referring to – I am curious as to what they do when, once in every few cases, their pack of hounds runs a fox to earth? (i.e. fox wisely declines to trot out from its cover in the woods to present itself conveniently in front of the waiting line of (shot)guns and / or blokes with rifles at vantage points, and instead it seeks desperate sanctuary in one it’s own usual foxholes / earths, or a badger sett, a big pile of rocks, or even a rabbit burrow if it can squeeze part way in.

    I’m just asking as in the parts of the UK that I know (not the Highlands), the outcome would not be the humane one you suggest occurs in your area – either terrier(s) would be sent down* or cymag would be used.
    *and in the instance of a fox having been run directly to earth, they seldom ‘flush’ or bolt (why would they, when they know what is waiting above them) and they then have to be dug out or thrashed to death by the terrier(s).

    Can you confirm what the policy of the guys you know is in these circumstances?

    1. Hello Spaghnum,

      I am not sure what the gamekeepers do when the hounds run a fox to earth if that indeed happens as I have only watched the hunt from a distance on a couple of occasions. Up here the gamekeepers usually stop up the dens after they have used terriers to control foxes at the dens so I would imagine that the foxes lying up in woodland would have little alternative but to run from the hounds once they enter the woodland. The baying of the hounds alone is probably enough to make them run for it.

      However, my point of commenting the first time about this type of fox control is that it is not considered “fun” by the gamekeepers employing the method but is considered a practical way to control foxes away from the dens.

      1. Hi James, we have common ground as I believe that in many areas killing foxes is necessary and completely justifiable. I have been involved myself with people in killing them by various methods, and have killed foxes myself. I don’t and wouldn’t do it myself now, but were I convinced of the need to kill them for a certain reason in a certain area, I wouldn’t oppose it and I can think of several inspiring and otherwise wisely true-conservation managed upland areas that would benefit greatly from a targeted, determined organised cull of foxes during winter to prepare for spring. I can’t speak much about the geographical area we are referring to on this thread, as I don’t know it. But I can speak about the general principle of involving dogs – be they hounds, bull lurchers or terriers. Based on my experience sooner or later – over a number of outings, even with the best of intentions which it is rare for everybody to have anyway, there is an inevitable incident or two that crops up and a fox will die a terrifying and bloody death, either by genuine accident, incompetence, poor planning, lack of compassion or callous bad intention. So how do I propose to control foxes? The same way and to the same standard as Forestry Commission Rangers culling deer with the “big” rifle, which combined with the incredible modern rifles, ammunition and scopes, night vision equipment and ATV’s is not half as difficult and time consuming as I know it once was. Not perfect, but by using ever improving equipment and technology combined with a humane methodology and training to match, there is no reason why we cannot turn the page of history on molesting animals with dogs.

        1. Never understood the desire to kill our wildlife, god knows there’s precious little of it out there.
          Anyone commercially farming owes protection to their charges, and reducing numbers of predators is only a temporary fix.
          Upland sheep farming is heavily subsidised by the tax payer and reduces fields to ecological deserts, I have never identified any benefit to anyone other than the farmer living the life. Nor have I ever seen a video of fox and sheep that did not suggest harmony. Never seen a fox kill a lamb, the ewe wouldnt stand by, even if the farmer would. Fox diet is principally rabbits and rodents, something farmers should be grateful for imo.
          Its about taking responsibility as far as Im concerned, the reason Sainsbury has plated glass windows and night alarms….

  8. Is this really a win for foxes?

    The proposed licensing scheme which will still permit hunting with more than 2 dogs in certain circumstances needs to be watched and scrutinised very carefully, as this potential loop hole will no doubt be fully exploited by those who believe it is their right to continue the barbaric practice of fox hunting.

    It is therefore somewhat disappointing that the Scottish government have included a licensing scheme within this legislation.

    From what I have read, licenses to allow hunting with more than 2 dogs could be issued for “the purpose of preventing serious damage to ‘livestock’, woodland or crops; and environmental benefit.”

    However, I fail to understand how foxes could cause serious damage to woodland or crops, as I would have thought foxes could be beneficial to both crops and woodland, especially as foxes predate on species such as rabbits which are the frequent cause of much damage.

    No doubt foxes will be blamed for the loss of any lambs or any other livestock, but one has to question whether serious damage to livestock could be averted by better shepherding/husbandry techniques such as the use of lambing sheds ,securely fenced fields or other technology designed to deter the fox?
    Will NatureScot require farmers to provide proof that such undertakings have been carried out before any hunt licences are issued?

    Also, who will independently verify that any loss of livestock is down solely to the presence of foxes?
    The abuse of such a system is well documented in Lopez’s book “Of wolves and men” where there was evidence that US ranchers purposefully lied about wolf attacks, so that action was taken at State level to exterminate wolves.
    There could be pressure put on farmers to exaggerate fox attacks simply to provide hunts with an excuse to obtain a licence.
    (Let’s not forget the prosecution of the Masters of Foxhounds Association after the webinar incident on how to engage in illegal fox hunting. I am not sure such people can ever be trusted to behave honestly)

    As foxes are a native wildlife species which have a natural place in the countryside then it is hard to imagine what environmental benefit there could be for denying foxes their natural habitat?

    However, I do understand that foxes pose a risk to endangered ground nesting birds such as curlews and lapwings, but rather than simply blame the poor conservation status of these species on predation by foxes, shouldn’t we also be considering other things such as habitat loss, industrialised farming techniques and all the other ills caused by humans which have resulted in such a massive decline of nature in recent years?
    Things which those who simply want to portray the fox as the countryside villain never seem to want to talk seriously about?

    If foxes in a particular area are responsible for predation of endangered ground nesting birds, does it really need a pack of hounds to flush out the foxes to waiting guns, or could fox population control be done just as effectively with 2 dogs and trained marksmen?
    The badge cull which was part of the response to bovine TB, didn’t require packs of dogs.
    So I can see no reason why a similar method couldn’t be used to control a fox population?
    But perhaps such population control could be done even more humanely by trapping foxes and relocating them to elsewhere in the countryside?

    I strongly suspect this licensing scheme has been introduced into this new piece of legislation at the behest of the wealthy and privileged landowners who couldn’t abide the thought that their perceived right to chase and kill foxes with horse and hounds is something which was going to be curtailed.
    It is a loop hole which no doubt will be fully exploited and I have a grave suspicion that this new piece of legislation won’t stop fox hunting, which is what the majority of the public wanted, but will just require those who want to continue to engage in this barbaric practice to apply for a licence.

    It is however welcomed that trail hunting is to be banned; and something I would suggest which might indicate the mistrust which the Scottish government has on the sincerity of those who engage this practice when they claimed this wasn’t a cover to engage in illegal fox hunting. I just hope NatureScot apply the same sense of mistrust when they are presented with applications for licences to hunt with more than 2 dogs.

    Just as the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 hasn’t stopped illegal killing of many corvids, which are killed when the terms of the GL wouldn’t permit such killing or destruction; I very much doubt this new piece of legislation will stop the illegal killing of foxes by packs of hounds in situations where a licence should never have been issued.

    The Bill also does nothing to address the misguided and backward beliefs, hatred and prejudice by which many view the fox. The fox has it’s place in nature, and we have to learn to live alongside it without resorting to violence and killing every time it does something displeasing to human endeavours.

    1. thanks John L, reflects my own sentiments exactly throughout. However, loopholes are made to be closed, so too many jollies by the blood lusting brigade will doubtless be identified, and the law reformed to suit. Look upon it optimistically as another major step towards an outright ban, because that will otherwise inevitably take place.

  9. The same as I personally view progress on raptor persecution – on hunting foxes with dogs – this is trench warfare too and like the Western Front there are rarely any decisive clear cut wins to be had. But things are going the right way and advances to new and improved positions are definitely being made, as in this legislation (nowhere near perfect as it may be).

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