One of the things I’ve been asked this week, as people have celebrated 20 years of the Scottish Parliament, is: “What’s the single thing it has done that you are most proud of?”
Of course, the Scottish Parliament has achieved a lot, some of it before I was elected. It has been bold on public health and LGBT rights, tackling some of Scotland’s big challenges like smoking, alcohol, and bigotry.
When it comes to land use and animal rights, however, the Scottish Parliament has been far too timid.
I was overjoyed when, in 2002, MSPs voted to ban the hunting of wild mammals with dogs. Two years ahead of England and Wales, it felt as though Scotland was leading the way.
Some maintain this is pest control. It seemed obvious in 2002, as it still is today, that fox hunting is more about the continuation of a tradition than effective pest control. This is a day out, exercising horses and hounds, which can end with the death of a wild mammal.
In his review for the Scottish Government, Lord Bonomy noted that “the flushing from cover for pest control exception is a decoy for the continuation of some traditional hunting practices”.
Sadly, that 2002 law contained too many loopholes, which allowed this cruel practice to continue. Police called the laws “unworkable”, but so far, the Scottish Government’s response is to suggest limiting the number of dogs that are allowed to take part. That’s not good enough. In that case, the “flushing to guns” loophole would remain.
In principle, the use of dogs to hunt wild animals should be stopped.
Last week I launched a consultation around a proposed Members’ Bill to put a real ban on fox hunting and provide real protection for Scotland’s hares.
I want to close these loopholes for good.
The routine killing of mountain and brown hares is a problem that needs to be urgently tackled too.
Tens of thousands of mountain hares are eradicated every year as part of localized “culls” by estate managers who want to keep populations of red grouse
artificially high, who they are also managing for killing. There isn’t even any evidence that these culls have any impact whatsoever on populations of grouse.
These beautiful animals are killed only so a few enthusiasts can then go on to kill grouse – this circle of slaughter is completely senseless.
Meanwhile, birds of prey, natural predators of mountain hares, are also mysteriously disappearing in suspicious circumstances.
It was heartbreaking to see this week that the golden eagle named Adam by my Scottish Greens colleague Andy Wightman has joined the growing ranks of birds who have vanished near a grouse moor.
Many birds of prey have disappeared in recent years, and then grouse shooters complain about the number of hares.
In an important scheme set up by Scottish Environment LINK, which pairs MSPs and Scotland’s threatened wildlife, Andy is the species champion of the golden eagle, and I am the species champion of the hare.
The scheme is designed to give political support to Scotland’s threatened wildlife, and as recent events have shown – they really
need it. The last fortnight has shown why the species champions are so vital, and why Andy and I take this role very seriously.
While there has been publicity around the mountain hare, I’m also concerned about the brown hare.
Figures from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) we obtained through a Freedom of Information request this year showed a sharp rise in the number of brown hares being shot during the breeding season.
SNH would know, it has granted licenses to kill nearly 7000 brown hares across Scotland since 2012. And in 2018, the highest number of licenses in seven years was granted.
Mothers will have been killed while they are still nursing their young.
This is why I have included the brown hare in my proposed bill, but this large-scale killing is part of a bigger, systematic problem with wildlife protection in this country – the bizarre Victorian attitude that Scotland’s wildlife should be an expendable plaything of the very few persists.
That’s why it is immensely frustrating that the Scottish Government’s review of grouse moor estates is taking so long.