The Hunting with Dogs Bill – what does it mean for predator control?
The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill was passed on January 24th 2023. For over a year now, the land management sector, led by the Rural Environment and Land Management (RELM) group of organisations, has been fully engaged in discussions with Scottish Government regarding changes to hunting with dogs.
GWCT submitted both written evidence to consultation and oral evidence to the Rural Affairs and Natural Environment Committee. We concentrated on the need to maintain different methods of predator control for conservation purposes, drawing on the Trust’s considerable depth of research undertaken over many years.
The critical focus for RELM has been on ensuring that there are safeguards to enable the use of sufficient dogs to flush foxes to guns. Although the Bill now limits this to two dogs, the collaborative representation of the Group has led to the inclusion of a licensing scheme, permitting the use of more dogs in defined circumstances.
The scheme will be administered by NatureScot. Broadly, this will allow the use of more dogs in hilly, wooded or densely vegetated areas, where it may otherwise be difficult to flush foxes to gun if restricted to only two dogs. It was recognised during debate on the Bill that it could create confusion regarding the use of dogs on rough, walked-up, or driven game shoots. Provisions aimed at reducing uncertainties are included in the Bill.
RELM members have summarised the key requirements, which can be found here.
Snaring under the microscope
If that wasn’t enough, we’ve also been locked in debate with Scottish Government over much the same time-scale regarding the future use of snares. GWCT has drawn up two reports on behalf of RELM, setting out the economic and conservation cases for retention, pointing to the significant improvements to welfare represented by humane cable restraints.
These were designed by our predation control team and incorporate breakaway components to reduce the risks to non-target species. We have also presented to Holyrood’s cross-party group on animal welfare and remain hopeful that along with RELM, we can put our arguments directly to the Minister for Environment, Mairi McAllan. We need as much flexibility as possible for predator control to assist in halting and reversing biodiversity loss.
Avian Influenza and catching up
With Avian Influenza (AI) in the headlines and the impact on availability of poults from game farms, there has been much discussion about the merits of ‘catching up.’ Although many shoots will see this as a one-year insurance policy against low supply of poults, it is not without risks.
GWCT has produced a useful Q & A on catching up in the context of AI, available here. Other practical risks are posed by the fact that often, the remaining stock at the end of a season is not necessarily the best quality, strong high-flying bird you might wish to breed from for the future. Please contact our Scottish Advisory team if you would like to discuss your options.
The Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill consultation
Again, key members of the RELM group have been highly active in engagement with Scottish Government regarding grouse moor licensing. This culminated late in 2022 with publication of the Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill consultation. Throughout this period, GWCT has supported the land-owner task force directly engaged with Scottish Government on legal aspects.
Separately, we held specific meetings with the administration on best practice and mobile app-based information recording for evidence-led approaches to potential legislation. This covers predator control, species recording, disease management and muirburn planning, providing a vital compliance audit trail.
Through key reports and real-time access to information, the app recording also offers upland managers an important and valuable tool to assist their work and demonstrate biodiversity stewardship. Our Scottish Advisory team can again help with any enquiries you may have on showing best practice with proof. You can also download the Scottish Advisory Team’s brochure here.