Last month the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill passed Stage 2 of the Scottish Parliament's legislative process, and the Bill is now at the third and final Stage of the process.

If the Bill is passed the new legislation will replace the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, which prohibits traditional fox hunting and hare coursing in Scotland. This bill proposes to further limit circumstances in which it is permitted to hunt wild mammals using dogs, and proposes to make trail hunting illegal (except under very limited circumstances).

Hunting using dogs

The Bill proposes a general prohibition on using dogs to hunt wild mammals (other than rats and mice), except in specific limited circumstances. 'Hunting' is defined as including 'searching for' and 'coursing'.

The Bill details excepted circumstances where such hunting may be permitted, provided that specific conditions are met. These excepted circumstances are:

  1. To search for, stalk or flush out wild mammals above ground for the purposes of preventing serious damage to livestock, woodland and crops, preventing the spread of disease, and/or protecting human health.
  2. To search for or flush out foxes below ground for the purposes noted above, or to relieve the suffering of an injured or dependent fox.
  3. To search for, stalk or flush out wild mammals to provide quarry for falconry, game shooting and deer stalking, or to retrieve a wild mammal which has been killed as a result of falconry, game shooting or deer stalking.
  4. To search for, stalk or flush out a wild mammal believed to be injured, with the intention of treating, capturing or killing it for the purpose of relieving its suffering.
  5. To search for and retrieve dead wild mammals; and
  6. To search for, stalk or flush out wild mammals for environmental purposes, including preserving, protecting or restoring a particular species or the diversity of animal or plant life, and eradicating invasive non-native species of wild mammal.

If an exception noted above applies, the Bill proposes conditions on how the activity must be carried out. Some of these conditions include that:

  • the activity must not involve the use of more than 2 dogs (and 1 dog in the case of management of foxes underground) unless a special licence has been granted for the use of more dogs;
  • the dogs must be under control;
  • reasonable steps must be taken to ensure a dog does not join with others to form a pack;
  • permission by the landowner or land manger must be obtained; and
  • the mammal must be shot dead or killed by a bird of prey as soon as reasonably possible.

In circumstances where a licence may be applied for the use of more than 2 dogs, this will only be granted if the licensing authority is satisfied that no other pest management solution would be effective. The licence will only be for the minimum number of dogs required and will be for a maximum of a 14 days within a period of 6 months, or for 2 years where the licence is for the purposes of environmental management.

These proposals differ from the current legislation, where it is permitted to use dogs to stalk, search for and flush out wild mammals to guns in order to assist with pest control and protect livestock, and there is no limit on the number of dogs that may be used.

Trail hunting

In addition to the prohibition on hunting with dogs as detailed above, the Bill proposes to introduce a ban on trail hunting, defined as "an activity in which a dog is directed to find and follow an animal-based scent which has been laid for that purpose." An animal based scent is described as a scent derived from a wild mammal (for example urine) or an artificial scent designed to mimic that animal scent.

There is an exception to the trail hunting prohibition for training dogs to follow an animal based scent. When carrying out such training "reasonable steps" must be taken to ensure no wild mammal is pursued, injured or killed.

Penalties for committing an offence

The Bill details the penalties that may be imposed on someone found to have committed an offence.

For participation in illegal hunting using a dog the maximum sentence is 5 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine for the most serious offences.

For participation in trail hunting and for landowners permitting illegal hunting with dogs the maximum sentence is 12 months in prison and/or a fine not exceeding £40,000.

Under the Bill, a Scottish criminal court could also impose a "deprivation order" and/or a "disqualification order" on someone convicted under the legislation. A deprivation order would deprive the person of possession of a dog or horse, and order the destruction, sale or other disposal of their animal. A disqualification order would disqualify the person from owning, keeping and/or using a dog. This may be limited to particular kinds or breeds of dogs or may limit the number of dogs the person may keep.

What next?

The Bill is now at 'Stage 3' of the legislative process, where MSPs can propose final changes and there will then be a debate and vote in the Scottish Parliament on whether or not to pass the Bill.


Ramsay Hall

Legal Director