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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February, 2005, 22:34 GMT
Race for fox hunting legal stance
By John Knox
BBC Scotland political reporter

Yes, they still chase foxes in Scotland.

Hunt
Chasing foxes in Scotland is legal - just

But for the past two-and-a-half years they haven't hunted them.

The distinction is something the English and Welsh will have to get used to as the ban on hunting south of the border becomes a legal fact.

The difference, of course, is "the kill". It is now illegal, both north and south, to allow a pack of dogs to tear a fox apart.

But it is perfectly legal to use dogs to flush a fox to guns. The exhausted creature is finally put down "humanely" by gamekeepers with shotguns.

The "flushing" clause in the Protection of Mammals (Scotland) Act has allowed all 10 registered hunts in Scotland to stay in existence - the Berwickshire hunt, the Liddesdale, Lauderdale, Buccleuch, Jedforest, Dumfriesshire, Renfrewshire, Eglington, Kincardineshire and Fife.

'Respect the law'

"We have to respect the law," said Allan Murray when I spoke to him at his family farm outside Kelso.

He's the man who led the Countryside Alliance's fight against the ban in Scotland.

"We are not lawbreakers. We can operate in a sort of fashion but it's not what I would call fox-hunting," he said.

The red jackets have been hung up. Many traditional hunters have hung up their boots as well.

The number of dogs in each pack has been halved. The number of full time kennel men as gone from about 30 to just 10.

Allan Murray reckons that hundreds of jobs have been lost in the horse riding business.

'Life change'

Wendy Turnbull from Duns lost her job as a groom. She showed me around the stables she now rents to keep just two horses. She has to supplement her income by lorry driving.

"It's a big change in my life," she told me.

"These days, the government is always telling us how to live our lives, a ban on hunting, a ban on smoking. What will they ban next?"

The only figure that has increased is the number of foxes killed by hunts, up 25% it's reckoned, to about 700 a year.

What has happened, though, is that the spirit has gone out of the "sport"

That's a tiny proportion of the number of foxes killed by other means - especially the Highland foot packs and normal culling by gamekeepers.

And it's tiny compared with the number of foxes in Scotland, last counted at 23,000.

No one has done any scientific study of the effect of the fox hunting ban.

It's still all hearsay and guesswork. What has happened, though, is that the spirit has gone out of the "sport".

Lynda Korimboccus is pleased.

Changed for ever

Patting her pet dog in the Advocates for Animals offices in Edinburgh, she said: "We would have preferred a complete ban but at least dogs cannot rip apart a fox while it is still conscious."

The new law has only been tested once in the courts. In December last year, Trevor Adams, the former Master of the Buccleuch Hunt was found not guilty at Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

His pack of hounds chased a fox towards guns but the fox changed course and escaped.

The case hinged on whether Mr Adams had control of the pack or not. The prosecution had to prove that he intended to let his dogs kill the fox.

The ruling was taken by all sides to mean that the fox hunting is definitely banned but "flushing" to guns is perfectly legal.

Mr Adams this week has gone to ground, not giving interviews. So too has the man who pushed the bill through the Scottish Parliament, the Glasgow Labour MSP Mike Watson.

The whole fox hunting saga has been like watching a strange civil war between town and country and between a modern idea of what constitutes cruelty and the tradition of man enjoying his ancient role of hunter-killer.

The modern townies have won - the countryside has changed forever.




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