The Scottish government has recently published its 2013-2014 report on wildlife crime (yes, it took them 8 months to write that). The report had some interesting findings, most importantly that wildlife crime has dropped by 20%.
Now, whilst this is a success, you have to remember that wildlife crime is often unreported so a better description would be “20% drop in reported crime” but they can only use the facts they have and any decrease is seen as a victory. There are some issues with this however. Firstly, any crime investigated solely by the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) is not included as the report only details crimes investigated by the police. The SSPCA doesn’t refer all cases to the police but the SSPCA itself actually investigated more cases last year than on any of the 5 previous years. Conceivably the drop in police investigations and the increase in SSPCA investigations may well be linked.
The report is important in view of the Scottish Government’s review on hunting with dogs due to occur shortly. The initial ban on hunting with dogs was introduced in 2002. Currently the data suggests that hare hunting with dogs has dropped but it doesn’t seem that fox hunting has been eliminated which was one of the main purposes of the ban. Investigations by the League against cruel sports have shown that illegal fox hunting is still prevalent throughout Scotland. Illegal hunting is when the dogs are used to kill the fox rather than flushing the fox into the guns of the waiting hunters. Apparently that is still perfectly legal despite seeming to be an archaic practise.
Looking at the figures themselves it is clear there is more to be done. 160 hunting with dogs crimes were recorded over the last five years in Scotland, but only 44 cases were fully investigated and 50% of these resulted in a conviction. A 50% conviction rate is an extremely low rate and is in the fact the lowest conviction rate for all wildlife crimes. Of the 22 people found guilty, only one was jailed, with most being given community orders and small fines averaging around the £400 mark.
There have also been no prosecutions of mounted fox hunts in the 12 years the ban has been in effect. Basically illegal foxhunting is a very easy thing to do, with 50% of hunts breaching the ban, but a very difficult thing to prove someone has being doing.
In the defence of the hunters they would argue that shooting would endanger the riders, horses or dogs. This results in the dogs “accidentally” catch the fox and there being nothing they could do, other than watch and blow trumpets.
With the Scottish government due to review the legislation it is unclear what will happen. Currently Scotland’s ban is different to England and Wales’s, which only allows a maximum of 2 dogs to be used, whereas Scotland’s does not limit the number of dogs. Falling in line with the rest of the UK would be a possibility. However there are UK government plans to repeal the ban in England and Wales through some rather suspicious legislation, in spite of the public being against it. As a Guardian article put it “It is cynical, tawdry and deserves to fail.” What will happen in Scotland therefore is still unclear, possibly the SNP’s desire to oppose England at every step may actually benefit the country.