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Scottish hunt legally defies the ban

Despite the fact that hunting with hounds has been banned in Scotland for four months, horses and hounds can still be seen every weekend streaming across the countryside.

Only one of the ten Scottish hunts has disbanded. The rest are killing more foxes than ever - a total of 250 since August, compared with 140 in the same period two years ago. The police have taken no action, because the hunts are acting within the new law.

At the latest meeting of the Kincardineshire Foxhounds near Stonehaven, the most northerly pack in Britain, four men with shotguns mingled with the riders.

The ban has stopped hounds chasing foxes across the countryside and killing them, but has not stopped the hunt. Under the new system shooters are positioned at one end of the "draw" and the hounds are put in at the other, while the riders help to steer the fox towards the guns.

To the layman it looks much like foxhunting. And many hunters and animal welfare groups seem to have accepted the new system. This allows the hunts to continue operating, and the anti-hunt campaigners to claim that they have ended the cruelty of the chase and kill.

After a successful day on Friday last, during which two foxes were shot, Richard Holman-Baird, of the Kincardineshire hunt, said: "It is not hunting because there is no chase." He added: "What has fallen away is the interest in the riding aspect. You no longer set off from point A, without knowing where point B will be. You can do the jumps from draw to draw, but you do it in cold blood rather than in full cry."

While the Kincardinshire has retained the colourful hunt jackets, the larger Border hunts - which are hunting but offering a "fox destruction service" - have given them up.

Allan Murray, of the Duke of Buccleuch's Hunt, which has killed 65 foxes this season, said: "The pageantry has gone and the colour is not there."

Both men claim the new system is killing "good" foxes that would have escaped during a traditional hunt.

Mr Holman-Baird said: "Under the new system, if there are three foxes in a piece of woodland then we will kill them all using the guns. Before, the hounds would have chased one and the others would have got away."

He added: "So we are eradicating the fox population in these areas instead of getting rid of the weaker members."

However, according to Mike Rumbles, the Liberal Democrat MSP who was a member of the committee that told the Scottish parliament the Act was unworkable, the present situation is far from what the public expected.

He said: "The public perception was that the parliament was passing a Bill to stop foxhunting in its entirety. But in practice it is a disaster. It is the worst piece of legislation the parliament has passed and it makes us look stupid."