A Bill that will close loopholes in legislation on the use of dogs for hunting has been introduced.
The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill will limit the number of dogs allowed to be used to flush animals for them to be shot to two, whereas an unlimited number can currently be used.
The Scottish Government pledged to introduce the Bill in its Program for Government.
Under the legislation, the two dogs will only be able to be used to control predators if they threaten livestock, timber or crops, to protect human health or to prevent the spread of disease, with a license required for the use of bigger groups.
But the Scottish Greens have said the legislation merely “tinkers around the edges” by allowing a license to be obtained for larger packs of dogs.
Field sports are an excluded matter in the powersharing agreement between the Government and the Greens, but this is the second instance in recent weeks that has been seen the partners disagree, following firm Green opposition to green freeports earlier this month.
Environment minister Mairi McAllan said there is “no place” for hunting with dogs in Scotland.
“I am seeking to close loopholes which have allowed that already illegal activity to persist, and my aim is to do that in a way that ensures the greatest possible animal welfare while facilitating legitimate predator control,” she added.
The Bill will also ban trail hunting – the act of using a dog to follow the scent of another animal – which can be used as cover for illegal hunts.
“As well as closing existing loopholes, I am seeking to prevent others opening,” Ms McAllan said.
“We have seen from recent events south of the border that trail hunting is sometimes being used as a cover for illegal hunting.
“We therefore plan to take pre-emptive action to prevent trail hunting becoming established in Scotland in order to reduce the risk of wild mammals being killed by dogs.”
The minister added: “However, I should like to be clear that foxes can cause significant harm to livestock, as well as other wildlife such as ground nesting birds – so it is important that farmers and land managers have access to control measures that are efficient and human. This legislation provides that.”
Greens rural affairs spokeswoman Ariane Burgess called for a “watertight ban” on fox hunting.
She said: “Most people think fox hunting is already banned in Scotland, but loopholes in the law mean that hunting continues much as it did.
“Sadly, in its current form this Bill closes one loophole while it risks opening another so that this bloodthirsty practice can continue.
“Polls have repeatedly shown that the public back an outright ban, yet the Scottish Government continues to tinker around the edges.
“That’s why blood sports remain an area excluded from the Bute House Agreement and why this Bill will need to deliver a real watertight ban if it is to get the backing of Scottish Green MSPs.”
Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, welcomed the introduction of the Bill.
“After 20 years of flawed legislation it is critical that this Bill addresses the need to reduce the pack of hounds to just two, and takes pre-emptive action to prevent trail hunting being established as a new ‘sport’ in Scotland,” he said .
“We want to see a Bill that really bans hunting and doesn’t contain new loopholes for hunters to exploit.”
A spokesperson for the National Farmers Union Scotland highlighted the need to protect farmers’ livelihoods.
They said: “NFU Scotland stresses the need to maintain effective, practical and pragmatic control of wild mammals, including foxes, in a farming and crofting context to prevent damage to livestock, crops, plants and habitats and limit the spread of disease, as well as to reduce predation on protected wildlife species.”