Hunting with dogs: consultation analysis

Key themes to emerge from our consultation on the use of dogs to control foxes and other wild mammals in Scotland.

6. Hare coursing (Q11)

6.1 The 2002 Act prohibits the hunting of hares with dogs in Scotland (hare coursing). The consultation paper noted, however, that illegal hunting of hares still takes place. This has implications for animal welfare and also causes significant problems for people living in rural communities. Question 11 sought views on whether and how the law could be strengthened to tackle hare coursing.

Question 11: Do you think the current legislation provides sufficient protection in order to tackle hare coursing in Scotland? [Yes / No / Don't know] Please explain the reason for your answer here.

6.2 Question 11 asked for respondents' views on whether current legislation provides sufficient protection to tackle hare coursing in Scotland (Table 6.1).

6.3 Table 6.1 shows that overall, around a fifth of respondents (20%) thought current legislation provided sufficient protection against hare coursing, and two-thirds (67%) thought it did not. More than a tenth of respondents (13%) answered 'don't know' to this question. The proportion of organisations who thought the current legislation provided sufficient protection (31%) was slightly higher than for individuals (20%).

6.4 As would be expected, views on this question differed substantially depending on whether or not the respondent wished to see a ban on all hunting with dogs. In particular, among those who wanted a ban, no organisations and just 2% of individuals thought the current legislation provided sufficient protection. By contrast, opinions were more divided among those who did not call for a ban. In this group, just under a half of organisations (47%) and a third of individuals (33%) thought that the current legislation provided sufficient protection, compared with a third of organisations (33%) and half of individuals (50%) who thought it did not.

Table 6.1: Q11 – Do you think the current legislation provides sufficient protection in order to tackle hare coursing in Scotland?
Respondent type Yes No Don't know Total
Number (%) Number (%) Number (%) Number (%)
Wants a ban 0 (0%) 11 (73%) 4 (27%) 15 (100%)
Does not request a ban 14 (47%) 10 (33%) 6 (20%) 30 (100%)
Total organisations 14 (31%) 21 (47%) 10 (22%) 45 (100%)
Wants a ban 91 (2%) 3,681 (89%) 376 (9%) 4,148 (100%)
Does not request a ban 1,830 (33%) 2,749 (50%) 911 (17%) 5,490 (100%)
Total individuals 1,921 (20%) 6,430 (67%) 1,287 (13%) 9,638 (100%)
Total, organisations and individuals 1,935 (20%) 6,451 (67%) 1,297 (13%) 9,683 (100%)

Note: Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

6.5 In terms of the campaigns:

  • The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, and the Postal campaign advised respondents to tick 'yes' at Question 11
  • OneKind advised respondents to tick 'don't know'
  • The Keep the Ban campaign advised respondents to tick 'no'
  • The Scottish Countryside Alliance and the Lobby Network campaign did not provide any advice on how to answer Question 11.

6.6 Note that, in their comments at Question 11, respondents often made reference to and compared the provisions of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 (referred to below as the 2002 Act) and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (referred to below as the 1981 Act) – suggesting that there should be greater alignment between these two laws. Further details of these suggestions are discussed below.

Views that current legislation provides sufficient protection

6.7 Respondents who answered 'yes' at Question 11 made three main points.

6.8 The main point – raised both by organisations and individuals – was that current legislation already makes hare coursing illegal. Some respondents cited Lord Bonomy's review report, claiming that 'where there is sufficient evidence, hare coursing is prosecuted'. The problem, as this group saw it, was not the legislation, but the challenge of enforcing it. Respondents frequently noted that hare coursing generally takes place in isolated rural areas, often at night, and the individuals who engage in this activity are perceived to be intimidating or aggressive when approached. Respondents in this group thought that legislation did not need to change, but that additional resources were needed for the police to support enforcement.

6.9 A second point – mainly expressed by individuals – was that strengthening the legislation would make no difference. These respondents said that people who take part in hare coursing are already breaking the law, and new laws are unlikely to change their behaviour. Others commented that hare coursing is largely practised by the travelling community, and within this community, it is a long-established tradition which is unlikely to change as a result of the introduction of new legislation. Some respondents went further and suggested that hare coursing among the travelling community should not be interfered with as the community relied on this form of hunting for food.

6.10 A third, less common point – again, mainly raised by individuals – was that hare coursing is not a significant problem, and that any problems related to hare coursing have only arisen since it was made illegal. Some respondents with this view suggested that farmers have no real issue with hare coursing since hares are considered to be pests. (Note, however, not all respondents agreed with this view.) There were also suggestions that, in fact, hare coursing was preferable to shooting hares as this would result in the removal of weaker animals and lead to a healthier breeding stock of hares. Other respondents thought that the practice of hare coursing was relatively uncommon, and that it did not ultimately affect the population of hares. In addition, there was also a view that local populations of hares in some parts of Scotland were flourishing; some respondents therefore questioned whether there was a need to protect hares at all.

6.11 Some of those who answered 'yes' to Question 11 nevertheless went on to make suggestions for tackling hare coursing. However, unlike those who answered 'no', the suggestions from this group generally focused on making changes to other wildlife legislation. For example, it was suggested that the 1981 Act should be amended to provide for the disqualification of a person from owning or keeping a dog (a provision currently included in the 2002 Act). Some respondents in this group also said they welcomed the tougher penalties for hare coursing introduced by the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, but they thought there may be a lack of awareness of these changes among the police and the courts.

6.12 Very occasionally, respondents answering 'yes' at Question 11 suggested that greater penalties (heavier fines and jail terms) were need for those found guilty of hare coursing.

6.13 Finally, Table 6.1 above showed that, among individual respondents who wanted a ban on hunting, around 2% (92 out of 4,148) answered 'yes' to Question 11. In their comments, this group generally asserted that current legislation on hare coursing was not being enforced, that the legislation was difficult to enforce, or that the current penalties did not provide sufficient deterrence. This group wanted an increase in fines, an increase in prison sentences, confiscation of vehicles, prosecution of landowners (if it could be proved that they were complicit), and a ban for life on owning animals. As these views largely repeated those of respondents who answered 'no' at this question (see below), it is possible that many of these individuals ticked 'yes' in error. Alternatively, this group may have been making a distinction between the law in general (which they thought was sufficient) and the penalties available and / or being handed down by the courts (which they did not think were sufficient).

Views that current legislation does not provide sufficient protection

6.14 As Table 6.1 showed, respondents who answered 'no' at Question 11 comprised nearly half of organisations and two-thirds of individuals. This group expressed a general view that hare coursing continued to be common, and they thought (i) the current legislation was ineffective, and / or (ii) the legislation was not taken seriously by the police or the courts.

6.15 Some respondents in this group echoed points discussed above – i.e. that there are significant challenges in enforcement because of the nature of the crime, and that the police need more resources to tackle this issue (and other forms of rural crime). Some respondents in this group perceived that hare coursing was largely practised by local 'gangs', with connections to organised crime. However, this group was much more likely to say that there are too many loopholes in the current legislation which contribute to the difficulties in enforcement.

6.16 Organisational respondents, in particular, often suggested specific ways of strengthening the legislation, and highlighted the following:

  • Individuals accused of hare coursing can falsely claim that they were simply walking their dog off lead when it ran off – or that they were hunting rabbits, which are not currently covered by the 2002 Act. Legislation, therefore, needs to be changed to require a person to have their dog under control at all times and make it illegal to hunt rabbits with dogs.
  • The use of the term 'deliberate' in the 2002 Act means that there is a requirement to prove that an individual has intentionally set their dog onto a hare. This is difficult to prove, and many prosecutions fail on this point. The legislation should be amended to adopt the terminology 'wilfully or recklessly'.
  • The 1981 Act allows single witness evidence in relation to poaching incidents, whereas the 2002 Act requires two witnesses in relation to hare coursing. The 2002 Act should be changed to align with the 1981 Act on this point.

6.17 In addition to the specific suggestions regarding changes to legislation discussed above, organisational and individual respondents made a range of other suggestions, which they believed would help to tackle hare coursing. These included:

  • Increasing fines and other penalties: Individuals who submitted responses as part of the Keep the Ban campaign stated that a £5,000 fine and / or 6 months imprisonment did not provide a sufficient deterrent.[18] Other (mainly individual) respondents also called for fines to be substantially increased (suggestions ranged from £25,000 to £50,000) and for prison sentences to also be increased (suggestions ranged from a two-year minimum to 15 years). Some respondents said that any person found guilty of hare coursing should, as a matter of routine, have their dogs removed from them and be banned from keeping dogs and other animals for life. Any vehicles or guns used in the crime should also be confiscated.
  • Increase public awareness: Respondents (mainly organisations) also suggested that there was a need to educate members of the public to report hare coursing when they see it. There was a perception that members of the public may not realise this activity is illegal, and may not know who to contact (and the importance of urgency in doing so) when they witness hare coursing. There was a suggestion that it may be beneficial to allow those reporting incidents of hare coursing to do so anonymously via the Crimestoppers service.

6.18 Some organisations highlighted what they saw as the confused messages inherent in the existing legislation which made hare coursing illegal but at the same time described hares as a 'pest' species and enabled licences to be issued to grouse moor managers to shoot mountain hares as 'vermin'.

6.19 Finally, more than half of the respondents who answered 'no' at Question 11 were individuals who wanted a ban on all forms of hunting with dogs. Comments from this group indicated a preference for a ban on all forms of hunting – including all forms of hare hunting – and especially any hunting done for 'pleasure' or 'sport'. Whilst many made the same suggestions discussed above, it was also relatively common for this group to not directly address the question, but simply to restate their opposition to hunting, and reiterate their view that 'all animals have the right to live pain and stress free'.

Uncertainty about whether current legislation provides sufficient protection

6.20 Respondents who answered 'don't know' at Question 11 made three types of comment. First, some said they simply did not know enough about the subject to have an opinion. A second group (including some organisations) expressed certainty that hare coursing continues to be practised, but they were unsure whether this was due to a weakness in the legislation or a lack of enforcement. Respondents in this group often called for more resources for enforcement. A third group thought that hare coursing should never have been banned, or that it should be licensed, rather than banned. Within this latter group were some who thought this was a relatively harmless activity which is used by some to hunt a 'hare for the pot', thus usefully removing weak hares from the population.



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