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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 09:42 GMT
Huntsmen 'destroying more foxes'
By Huw Williams
For BBC News Scotland

Hunting with hounds is supposed to be banned already in Scotland.

Hounds now drive foxes towards guns
But there are just as many hunts north of the border and - it's claimed - they're killing more foxes since the law came in.

When the Scottish Parliament passed a law banning hunting with dogs, many naturally assumed it would mean an end to this countryside tradition north of the border.

But there were 10 hunts in Scotland before the law came in, and there are still 10 today.

The biggest is the Buccleuch. At their kennels, joint master and huntsman Trevor Adams talked to me, as he looked after his hounds.

A whole new game

"There is a problem with public perception," he told me, "because they do still hear hounds hunting and see people on horses.

"But the actual game we're playing - if it is a game - is totally different now, and well within the law."

He says the packs have reinvented themselves. Hunting is no longer a sport. Now it's pest control.

The hounds are only used - as the law requires - to drive foxes towards people with guns, who shoot them.

Ross Minett
Mr Minett wants further clarification in the law
Ross Minett, from the campaign group Advocates for Animals, is on the other side of the argument from Mr Adams and would have liked hunting to have been totally banned in Scotland, but he agrees shooting is more humane.

He told me the legislation has "severely curtailed" what hunts can do and, he added, "hopefully we've seen an end to the brutal and barbaric practice of foxes being torn apart by a pack of dogs".

He accepts, though, that there is some ambiguity in the legislation.

Advocates For Animals is asking for a meeting with Scotland's prosecuting authority - the Crown Office - to try and clarify the way the law is interpreted.

Searching and flushing

One area they're worried about is the subtle distinction between "searching" for foxes, and "flushing" them.

Searching for foxes is banned. Flushing means driving out animals that are known to be hiding in some cover, and it's allowed.

But animal rights campaigners suspect that some hunts may make the maximum possible use of the exemption and end up effectively searching.

The Buccleuch's huntsman Trevor Adams answered the accusation.

"Flushing, and looking for a fox, are pretty similar things really," he said.

"The fox is a wild animal and nobody knows exactly where it is, so you have to search for it to a certain extent to find out where it is."

But, he added: "What you're not allowed to do is go off searching, without a need to control that animal."

Hunts kill more foxes

It's claimed that since the ban came into force the hunts are killing more foxes, because the animals stand less chance of getting away from guns than they did from hounds.

There's also concern that in the past the younger, fitter, healthier foxes were the most likely to get away from the pack.

But now they're the very ones most likely to break from cover first, which makes them more likely to be shot.

Allan Murray
Allan Murray is suspicious of the motives behind the ban
Older or diseased animals may stay hidden and so escape. Hunts say this is bound to be bad for fox populations in the long run.

And it's claimed that hundreds of hounds have been put down; rural business like livery stables and farriers have been seriously hit and hunt employees have lost their jobs.

The warning from hunters in Scotland is that all those effects will now be repeated in England.

And Allan Murray, from the Scottish Countryside Alliance, told me he suspects that the latest government moves have got nothing to do with hunting, but are driven by a wider political agenda.

Specifically, by the need to satisfy Labour's fractious backbenchers.

"I wonder if banning hunting is payback time for some of the mistakes the government have made," he said.

Get the toffs

Did he mean that backbenchers might forget their concerns about Iraq if the government was seen to be "getting the toffs," I asked him.

He liked that phrase. "If that is what it's about", he said, "it's nothing to do with hunting."

One thing is clear. The lawyers are going to be busy, north and south of the border.

There have already been two guilty verdicts and one fixed penalty fine imposed on people who have broken the law in Scotland.

There are three cases are going through the courts, including one against Trevor Adams from the Buccleuch Hunt.

He is due before Jedburgh Sheriff Court in a few days. He denies the charge against him.

Meanwhile, a hunting enthusiast is appealing against a Scottish judge's ruling that the ban was no breach of his human rights.

He has already been talking about taking the case to the Privy Council, or to Strasbourg.

It is already clear that his colleagues in England are going to be equally litigious in defence of their sport.

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