Scottish Animal Welfare Commission: annual report 2022-2023

Annual report of the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC) showing activity for the year 2022 to 2023.

4. Work Plan and Work Group Activity

In the past 12 months the Commission has held three plenary meetings – in January, May and August 2023, with a fourth planned for November 2023. Minutes and records of attendance are published routinely and held in the Documents section of the Commission’s web page.

The Commission published its initial work plan in July 2020. Annual refreshed plans have since been published, including the most recent in July 2023. Smaller working groups lead the projects and also discuss some areas identified for consideration in the medium term. Updates on the activity and output of these groups is as follows (Where reports are referenced, further information can be found in the “Publications” section):


The working group was formed to consider the welfare of farmed fish in Scotland, including to provide an opinion on the welfare aspects of practices that are required to make the sector sustainable. The group initially considered the welfare issues arising for farmed Atlantic salmon, and wild animals when protecting farmed fish from predation by seals (such as use of acoustic deterrents). Evidence-gathering sessions included a visit to a salmon farm, a literature review, surveying and interviewing a range of industry experts, and conducting an ethical review.

The working group published its report on acoustic deterrent devices on 6 March 2023.

The working group is now focusing on the welfare issues surrounding the use of cleaner fish in salmon farming.

Dog Training

The working group was initially established to review whether dog trainers and dog training methods should be regulated. The group tasked itself with firstly reviewing and providing an initial report on the welfare issues associated with the use of electronic collars on dogs. Evidence gathering included engagement with a range of stakeholders, a demonstration of dog training practices and a review of the available literature on the issue.

The working group published its report on e-collars on 11 April 2023.

The working group is now focusing on the welfare issues surrounding other aversive training devices.

Responsible Cat Ownership

A working group was set up at the beginning of 2023 to consider the welfare issues relating to domestic cat ownership, including of microchipping, neutering, vaccination, feral cats and the impacts on wildcat populations. The working group expects to report on its findings early in 2024.


A Sentience Sub-Committee was set up at the end of 2021, and continues to assist the other members of SAWC in filtering and prioritising issues relating to animal sentience, as well as assembling evidence in relation to fish sentience.

Wildlife Welfare

The Scottish Government has a Programme for Government commitment to publish ‘a strategic approach to wildlife management that puts animal welfare at the centre while protecting public health and economic and conservation considerations.” SAWC continues to engage with NatureScot on their wildlife welfare principles, which forms part of this commitment. The working group has also begun to consider the welfare issues for wild animals associated with rewilding and translocation.

Greyhound racing

Petitions on banning racing greyhounds increased awareness of potential welfare concerns.

SAWC formed a working group to undertake more research and fully consider the available evidence, in order to reach a balanced conclusion by the end of February 2023.

The working group published its opinion on greyhound racing in Scotland on 28 February 2023.

Local authorities handling animal welfare issues

A working group was formed to consider reviewing how different authorities deal with animal welfare issues, whether there are experts who can assess welfare and whether any future recommendations could feasibly be met by the local authorities.

Slaughter and mobile abattoirs

A working group was formed in September 2023 to review longer journey times and other welfare issues related to declining availability of local slaughter facilities.

Other areas of the work plan that may be considered in the future:

Wildcat reintroduction

Opportunity for SAWC to review policy or provide an opinion on welfare issues at some point.

Performing animals and animal encounters (potentially including therapy animals)

There is current Scottish Government engagement with stakeholders in this area, but SAWC could provide an opinion on welfare of animals used under these different types of management, including the lives of these animals when not on exhibit/in use.

Potential areas over a longer time scale:

Codes of practice vs. industry guidance

Provide an opinion on how information can be best disseminated and its impact in practice. Role for SAWC in reviewing revised or new versions of these (alongside activities of AWC), particularly those falling under areas of particular Scottish concerns such as aquaculture.

Welfare of horses kept for racing

Currently no plans to look at this. May respond in future if specific questions from the Minister in this area.



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