Animal welfare - Scottish Government activity: Scottish Animal Welfare Commission review

Review of Scottish Government activity affecting the welfare of animals, as sentient beings, by the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC).

5. Scottish Government – Work in progress

Farmed animals

Scottish Government animal welfare officials have continued to hold discussions with other administrations and industry stakeholders on possible reforms to animal transport legislation.

Officials have continued to provide secretariat support for a UK Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) working group on castration and tail docking of lambs, which included consideration of alternatives to the conventional rubber-ring method. Publication of the report is expected this year.

Scottish Government has also supported the AWC’s review of the 2014 recommendations on welfare of farmed fish at the time of killing, which is also expected to be published this year.

Updated Scottish pig welfare guidance has been developed and is expected to be issued in the near future, following AWC consideration.

Financial support for farmers, to undertake specific interventions to improve cattle and sheep animal health and welfare, was introduced as part of the Preparing for Sustainable Farming programme under the auspices of the Rural Payments and Inspections Division.

Animal welfare research

A Scottish Government Contract Research Fund project was awarded to Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), to investigate the welfare of cattle and sheep transported by sea from the Northern Isles. The project was commissioned by the Scottish Government Animal Welfare team, to inform consideration of how journey time at sea should be treated, following a recommendation by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Committee that this should be reviewed. Work has commenced and monitoring of journeys will take place in Autumn 2023.

The Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme 2022-2027 started on 1 April 2022. This includes several ongoing areas of research on animal welfare topics, mostly at SRUC:

  • Precision livestock tools to improve sheep welfare; early detection of sheep scab, roundworm, mastitis. (Moredun Research Institute)
  • Practical on-farm solutions for welfare and sustainability; solutions to chronic problems - evaluation of Precision Livestock Farming approaches for early warning of behaviour problems in pigs and diseases in sheep; evaluation of alternatives to farrowing crate systems; improving monitoring of nutritional management of cattle and sheep; reducing pain associated with management procedures (tail-docking, drying off); mother-offspring contact in dairy systems; male dairy calves in the value chain
  • Practical on-farm solutions for positive welfare - environmental enrichment; understanding stakeholder views; inventory of enrichments for varied species and their effectiveness; assess use of enrichments; assess biological benefits of enrichment; propose actions to increase effectiveness
  • EU Exit – challenges and opportunities for animal welfare; evaluate differences in welfare standards between Scotland and potential trading partners; provide evidence in support of maintaining or improving standards; monitor emerging areas and recommend policy priorities; evaluate, update, and standardise welfare measurement methods
  • Solutions to improve laying hen welfare; decreasing the incidence and/or severity of feather pecking in non-cage systems; ways of reducing the prevalence of keel bone (sternum) fractures; alternative free-range systems for good hen welfare during temporary housing orders
  • Influencing human behaviour to improve animal welfare: Case studies of exploring why tail-docking, castration and disbudding persist; body condition scoring in beef suckler cattle; the effect of Qualitative Behaviour Assessment on stockperson behaviour; educational interventions to enhance pig stockperson behaviour; farmer mental health and its interaction with animal welfare; the framing of animal welfare in communicating to stakeholders; livestock-worrying and responsible dog ownership; public demand for animal welfare.

Scottish Government officials continue to advise on commissioning and monitoring of a number of animal welfare projects funded by Defra from a GB research requirements budget.

Advisory activity

SRUC veterinary services provide a specific farm animal welfare advisory service funded by Scottish Government. This delivers advice to Scottish Government officials on existing and potential welfare problems, promotes awareness of animal welfare requirements to livestock keepers and livestock sector organisations through publicity campaigns and supports enforcement agencies in investigating suspected cruelty/crimes involving livestock and wildlife.

Wildlife: species licensing

The 2021-2022 Programme included a commitment to “Reviewing the wider species licensing system with a view to ensuring that the law is being applied correctly and that lethal control is only licensed where the conditions required for such a licence are demonstrably being met. The review will also assess the potential to apply the principle of full cost recovery to species licensing and the introduction of a public register of licences to improve transparency.”

SAWC understands that this work is under way and looks forward to further developments.



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