Bid to close loopholes in Scottish fox hunting ban
New legislation to tighten restrictions on fox hunting in Scotland is to be introduced at Holyrood.
Hunting with hounds was effectively banned in 2002, but dogs can still be used for flushing out foxes to be shot.
The new bill will be designed to close loopholes in the existing rules, limiting the number of dogs which can be used while hunting to two.
Gamekeepers said this would make hunts "totally ineffective" and would be "a disaster for wildlife and farm stock".
The government is looking at including a licensing scheme for "legitimate pest control" schemes to use more than two dogs.
The move is part of a package of animal welfare measures unveiled at Holyrood on Wednesday, including new rules requiring all abattoirs to install CCTV cameras.
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Fox hunting in Scotland is currently controlled by the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, which came into force in 2002.
This in effect banned hunting with dogs, but included an exemption allowing them to be used to flush foxes out of cover so they can be shot as a pest control measure.
Ministers are to accept many of the recommendations of Lord Bonomy's review of the law, which found that rules were "unduly complicated" and should be changed.
Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon told MSPs that it had become apparent that the law "to protect foxes from unnecessary hunting" was not "having the desired effect".
She said: "It is clear to me that there remains considerable public concern about fox hunting in Scotland and doubts about the operability of the legislation as it currently stands."
A new bill is to be introduced to close potential loopholes in the 2002 legislation, with an explicit limit on the number of dogs that can be used while flushing out or finding foxes.
Ministers will explore whether a licensing scheme should also be set up to permit the use of more than two dogs "if it were deemed necessary for pest control".
The bill will also include measures to prevent "trail hunting" becoming established in Scotland - a form of replicated hunt which does not involve a fox being chased, but which animal welfare groups fear could be used as cover for a real hunt.
Ms Gougeon said: "We're going to strengthen our current legislation and plan to introduce measures that go beyond the rest of the UK in terms of protecting the welfare of our wild mammals."
Gamekeepers voiced concern about the move, saying there would be a "very strong reaction" from rural workers.
Scottish Gamekeeper's Association Alex Hogg said he would be seeking talks with farmers, calling the new legislation "another nail for important rural industries".
He said: "Reducing the ability to control foxes in forestry will be a disaster for wildlife and farm stock. Two hounds will simply not work. It's a totally ineffective tool. This will pave the way for a complete lock-down and is poorly thought through."
Opposition parties were cautiously supportive of the move when it was announced at Holyrood.
Green MSP Alison Johnstone said the existing legislation was "more loophole than ban", calling on parliament to "support the kind of comprehensive ban on fox hunting that the public expect".
Scottish Labour MSP Colin Smyth questioned allowing licences for the use of more than two dogs in hunts, saying "you can't licence cruelty".
Ms Gougeon replied that "this is about closing loopholes, not creating any new ones".