Use of dogs to control foxes and other wild mammals: consultation

A consultation on proposals to strengthen the law relating to the use of dogs to hunt and flush foxes and other wild mammals in Scotland.

Consultation proposals

As the Scottish Government has already consulted on the recommendations made by Lord Bonomy in his review of the 2002 Act, this consultation seeks views on the proposals made by the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment on 9 January 2019 as they pertain to the hunting of wild mammals with dogs.

The focus of the Scottish Government's intentions in this area is to enhance animal welfare and to significantly reduce the risk of wild mammals being killed by packs of hounds. It is for these reasons that the then Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon MSP, announced the following proposals in 2019.

Limit on number of dogs

Lord Bonomy did not recommend a limit on the number of dogs allowed to flush a fox from cover to waiting guns. However, in his review he noted that:

"there are occasions … when a fox is caught and killed by the hounds before it can be flushed from cover into the open and when a fox is wounded by the guns when it emerges from cover and is killed by the hounds" and that "in general 20% or more of foxes disturbed by hunts are killed in this way by hounds".

Lord Bonomy also noted that there were legitimate grounds for suspicion that the present arrangements were providing cover for the unlawful use of dogs, contrary to the intention of the 2002 Act, with the associated concerns about welfare of foxes and other wildlife.

Licensing use of more than two dogs

In his review of the 2002 Act, Lord Bonomy acknowledged that in some types of terrain it may be difficult to use alternative methods of pest or fox control, such as lamping or the use of night-vision equipment, and that the use of a pack of dogs may be the most effective option.

"…imposing such a restriction [the use of only two dogs] could seriously compromise effective pest control in the country, particularly on rough and hilly ground and in extensive areas of dense cover such as conifer woodlands."

The Scottish Government is therefore exploring the introduction of a licensing scheme that would allow the use of more than two dogs where no other method of control would be effective in the particular circumstances.

While the exact details of any licensing arrangements for the use of more than two dogs are still to be developed, there are established and well-understood approaches to licensing of wildlife management operations set out in section 16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Following a similar model could mean that a licence would only be granted if, for example, the licensing authority was satisfied that the use of more than two dogs:

  • was for a specified purpose, for example, the prevention of serious damage to livestock, and;
  • that there was no satisfactory alternative method of control available.

Any licensing scheme would also consider details such as the period of validity of a licence granted, the geographical area that it covers, and any reporting duties on the licence-holder (number of foxes culled etc.).

Any licensed operations would be subject to monitoring to ensure compliance with the law and with licence conditions. Licences could be withdrawn for non-compliance with monitoring or breaches of conditions.

Prevention of trail hunting

The description of trail hunting provided by Lord Bonomy in his review was;

"…the hunting of a scent laid manually in such a way as best to simulate traditional mounted hunting activity. The trail is laid along the line a fox might take when moving across the countryside. Trail hunters use animal-based scent, primarily fox urine, a scent with which the hounds are familiar and with which it is intended they should remain familiar."

In England and Wales, trail hunting has been established following the prohibition of hunting wild mammals with more than two dogs by the 2004 Act. There have been occasions where packs hunting a trail have encountered a fox and the fox was hunted in contravention of English law. This situation was acknowledged by Lord Bonomy:

"However, it is worthy of note that the way in which some mounted hunts now operate in Scotland and the practice by mounted hunts of trail hunting in England and Wales have both given rise to suspicion that organised mounted hunts have continued to hunt foxes with a pack of hounds in contravention of the legislation."

The pre-emptive action to prevent trail hunting becoming established in Scotland has been proposed by the Scottish Government to avoid it being used as a cover for illegal hunting, following the introduction of a two dog limit. This could be by banning the use of animal-based scents or any other scent that seeks to mimic the scent of wild mammals for the purpose of providing a trail for dogs to follow.

Drag hunting also continues to be widely practised in England and has occasionally been practised in Scotland in the past. However, although they share common elements, there are some key differences between drag hunting and traditional mounted fox hunts, e.g. drag hunting typically uses an artificial scent such as aniseed or a human based scent, and is undertaken in short bursts over a pre-determined course that covers a fixed distance which has been agreed in advance with the landowner.

As it does not involve the hunting of live animals, drag hunting is legal in both Scotland and England and Wales and the Scottish Government is not proposing to prohibit this practice.


The 2002 Act prohibits the hunting of hares with dogs in Scotland (hare coursing). However, we are aware that illegal hunting continues in some parts of Scotland. As well as the welfare implications, those involved in hare coursing cause significant problems for people living in rural communities, including disturbance of livestock, damage to crops and fields and vandalism of property such as fences.

We are therefore, seeking your views on whether there are amendments we could make to strengthen the law to tackle hare-coursing.



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