Guidance notes for applicants requiring more than two dogs to manage a wild mammal species
The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023 (“the Act”), repeals the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. Under the Act, a person commits an offence if they hunt a wild mammal using a dog unless any of six named exceptions apply.
The Act provides for licensing the use of more than two dogs for two of these exceptions:
- i) management of wild mammals above ground; and
- ii) environmental benefit.
NatureScot is the delegated licensing authority.
2. Purpose of the Guidance
This guidance provides details on how the licensing system, for the use of more than two dogs, for the purposes of these two exceptions, will work in practice.
In keeping with our responsibilities under the Scottish Regulators’ Strategic Code of Practice, NatureScot aims to ensure our licensing service is efficient, effective, proportionate and adaptable.
This guidance has been developed to provide clarity and will be reviewed on an annual basis until 2028 and where necessary and adapted in line with the Wildlife Management Shared Approach.
The Act makes it an offence for any person to:
- Hunt a wild mammal using a dog unless any of the exceptions under the Act apply.
- Knowingly cause or permit another person to hunt a wild mammal using a dog unless any of the exceptions under the Act apply.
- Undertake the activity of trail hunting except when training dogs to follow an animal-based scent for a lawful purpose.
The definition of “hunting” includes, searching for, coursing and other related expressions. Each of the exceptions imposes limits to the number of dogs that are permitted to hunt. The exceptions and the permitted number of dogs are as follows:
- Management of wild mammals above ground – two dogs, unless a licence has been granted.
- Management of foxes below ground – one dog.
- Falconry, game shooting and deer stalking –two dogs.
- Relieving the suffering of injured wild mammals – two dogs.
- Searching for dead wild mammals – two dogs.
- Environmental benefit – two dogs, unless a licence has been granted
NatureScot has delegated authority under the Act to issue licences for using more than two dogs for (i) the management of wild mammals above ground; and (ii) environmental benefit.
4. Licence applications
Any person can apply for a licence to hunt for a wild mammal using more than two dogs under the exceptions of: (i) the management of wild mammals above ground; and (ii) environmental benefit.
The applicant needs to provide the information and evidence required by the application form in order to enable NatureScot to assess the application against the licensing ‘tests’ set out in the Act and described below. NatureScot will assess each application along with the information and evidence provided by the applicant, on a case-by-case basis.
In considering whether the licensing tests have been met, NatureScot will take account of the information and evidence provided by the applicant, the knowledge and experience of our staff, and any other available evidence which assists our assessment of the application (e.g. site visits, available research as to the efficacy of the measures proposed and possible alternatives).
It is important to note licensing the use of more than two dogs to hunt a wild mammal is a derogation from a statutory prohibition. Where the licensing tests are met, NatureScot will aim to license only to the extent necessary in order to meet the licensable purpose. That may mean, for example, that a licence permits less licensable activity and / or over a more limited geographic area than requested by an applicant.
The licensing tests are as follows:
Test 1 – Licensable purpose
A licence can only be granted for one of the following licensable purposes:
- Management of wild mammals above ground:
- Preventing serious damage to livestock, woodland or crops.
- Preventing the spread of disease.
- Protecting human health.
- Environmental benefit :
- Preserving, protecting or restoring a particular species (which may include controlling the number of a species for its welfare).
- Preserving, protecting or restoring the diversity of animal or plant life.
- Eradicating an invasive non-native species of wild mammal from an area
The applicant is required to specify the licensable purpose in the application.
To assist us in assessing whether or not Test 1 is met, the application should include evidence which the applicant considers demonstrates there is a need for the specified licensable activity to be addressed within the area to which the application relates.
For example, if the applicant indicates that the licensable purpose is “Preventing serious damage to livestock, woodland or crops” they will have to provide evidence that shows that such damage will (or will continue to) occur if the licensable activity is not undertaken.
Test 2 – There is no other solution which would be effective in achieving the purpose
NatureScot is unable to grant a licence unless it is satisfied that there is no other solution which would be effective in achieving the licensable purpose.
To assist us in assessing whether Test 2 is met, the application should include evidence of all measures which have been implemented in the relevant area(s) and the results of those measures. The application should also set out the applicant’s explanation, with reference to evidence, as to why they consider that those measures will not prevent serious damage from occurring or reoccurring.
If any recognised measures have not been attempted by the applicant, the application should include reasons why those measures have not been attempted and the applicant’s explanation, with reference to evidence, as to why they consider that those measures will not prevent serious damage from occurring or reoccurring.
Such lawful measures include but are not necessarily limited to:
- Control by shooting using a firearm or shotgun (including at night)
- Housing or other protection of livestock during vulnerable periods
- Using fences to exclude foxes from livestock:
- Permanent fences to exclude foxes need to be 1.8 – 2m high with an overhang at the top and buried at least 45cm deep in the ground.
- Electric fencing can be electrified netting or multi-strand electric fencing. See guidance in: Electric Fence Reference Manual, Research and Development Surveillance Report 607
- Using temporary electric fencing can be an effective at reducing predation on ground nesting birds.
- Moving vulnerable livestock to less vulnerable locations
- Close/enhanced shepherding or the use of guardian animals
- Translocation (for environmental benefit)
- Cage trapping, for example to control invasive mink
- Using up to 2 dogs
Where the Licensable Purpose is the prevention of serious damage to livestock (sheep), applicants should have regard for standard sheep management measures, this includes a range of ways to reduce the risk of predation on livestock. Livestock owners should follow the Scottish Government Code of Practice for the welfare of sheep. Dead lambs and afterbirth must be removed without delay and disposed of according to the Animal By-Products disposal guidance.
Test 3 - The killing, capturing or observing of the wild mammal will contribute towards a significant or long-term environmental benefit
This test only applies to licences for environmental benefit.
To assist us in assessing whether or not Test 3 is met, the application should include evidence which demonstrates that the applicant participates in an agreed plan or scheme, and the measurable long-term outcomes of that plan or scheme.
NatureScot can only grant a licence if satisfied that killing, capturing or observing the wild mammal will contribute towards a significant or long-term environmental benefit. For further advice see section 21 of this guidance.
5. Licence assessment
A licence can only be granted to a person using dogs above ground to search for, stalk or flush from cover a wild mammal with the intention of killing, capturing or observing it and to search for and retrieve a wild mammal which has been killed as a result of such activity.
NatureScot will assess the information and evidence provided in each application on its own merit, and against the licensing tests. NatureScot can only grant licences where all of the licensing tests are passed.
Where a decision is made to grant a licence, the licence will specify:
- the person or category of persons to whom it is granted;
- the species of wild mammal to which it relates;
- the area within which the searching for, stalking or flushing of that species of wild mammal may take place under the licence;
- the maximum number of dogs which are permitted to be used;
- the minimum number of guns (if any) which are required to be deployed; and
- the period of time for which the licence is valid
In addition NatureScot may make licences subject to such conditions as we consider to be appropriate. Those conditions may vary between licences, depending on the circumstances, but most licences will be subject to a number of standard conditions.
One of the standard conditions will provide that the licensed activity cannot be lawfully undertaken unless the licensee has given Police Scotland and NatureScot a minimum of 2 full working days written notice (by email) of the date, start time, and precise location at which the licensed activity will take place. That notice must include the name, home address, email address and mobile telephone number of the licence holder, the dog handler, and any assistants who are to undertake the licensed activity
It shall be the licence holder’s responsibility to ensure that they, the dog handler, and any other person who is to undertake licensed activities are contactable by NatureScot and Police Scotland, at the contact details provided, at all times during any licensed activity.
It shall be open to licence holders to make a written request that NatureScot agree to a reduction or dispensation of the full notice period. NatureScot may grant such a request where it considers that it is appropriate to do so. For example, such a request may be granted where NatureScot is satisfied that serious damage would occur if the licensed activity cannot be carried out within a shorter timeframe then adherence to the notice period would allow for.
Another standard condition will require the licence holder to submit a licence return detailing all licensed activities undertaken.
Licence holders shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the terms and conditions of the licence by anyone undertaking the licensed activities. Undertaking a licensable activity other than in accordance with the terms and conditions of a licence is an offence.
In addition, any breach of any term or condition of a licence by the licence holder or by anyone acting on their behalf or otherwise under that licence, will entitle NatureScot to revoke the licence.
A licence cannot be issued to or used by anyone convicted of a wildlife crime or disqualified from owning or keeping dogs until that conviction is considered spent in accordance with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (as amended), or they have received an admonishment, or a court discharged them absolutely.
6. Monitoring compliance with licence conditions
NatureScot will carry out monitoring to ensure that licensed activity is undertaken in accordance with the terms and conditions of the licence. This monitoring will help to prevent wildlife crime, ensure the necessary protection for wild mammals and help to refine the licensing process so that it fosters better understanding and compliance.
All licences will include a condition requiring that the licence holder ensures that NatureScot staff will be afforded access to the location before, during and after any licensed activity, to observe the licensed activity as it is undertaken and to monitor compliance with the licence conditions.
7. How to apply
An application can be made by completing the relevant application form and emailing it to [email protected].
- Application form for the Hunting with Dogs: Preventing Serious Damage
- Application form for the Hunting with Dogs: Environmental benefit
An online application process will be developed for “Hunting with Dogs” licences in due course.
8. Licence holder
The licence holder will be a named individual, this ensures there is accountability. The licence holder will be responsible for ensuring that all of the licence conditions are complied with at all times.
We anticipate that the licence holder will usually be the owner or occupier of the land to which the licence relates, or an individual that requires the licensed activities to be undertaken. They will assume full responsibility for the conduct of any dog handlers or assistants or any other persons who operate under the licence.
An agent may complete the application on behalf of the proposed licence holder, but the proposed licence holder must sign the application form to confirm that they have read and fully understood it and that they accept responsibility for compliance with the terms and conditions of the licence.
9. Dog Handler
Depending on the circumstances, NatureScot may include a licence condition which entitles the licence holder to employ a dog handler for the purposes of carrying out the licensed activity.
The full name, home address and contact details of the proposed dog handler must be included on the application form. Where a licence is granted for the use of a dog handler, the dog handler may operate without the direct supervision of the licence holder.
The licence holder shall be responsible for ensuring that the dog handler is suitably qualified and/or experienced and that they are able to (and do) control the dogs at all times.
Licences may also permit the use of assistants. Any proposed assistants must be named on the application and must work under the direct supervision of the dog handler or licence holder.
The licence holder shall be responsible for ensuring that the dog handler and any assistants (i) familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions of the licence; and (ii) act in accordance with the terms and conditions when carrying out licensed activities.
Any failure by the dog handler and / or assistants and / or any other person operating pursuant to a licence to comply with the terms and conditions of a licence shall constitute a breach of the licence terms and conditions by the licence holder, which shall entitle NatureScot to revoke the licence. It is an offence for any person to undertake licensable activities other than in accordance with the terms of a licence.
It is an offence for any person to undertake licensable activities other than in accordance with the terms of a licence.
10. Permission from land owner
If the applicant is not the owner or occupier of the location to which the application relates, the applicant must provide evidence with the application which demonstrates that they have the permission of the landowner to carry out the licensable activities at the proposed location. NatureScot may make its own enquiries with land owners and occupiers in order to ascertain whether or not such permission has been granted.
Applicants and licence holders should be aware that a licence does not provide any right of entry on to land or property.
11. Location of the licensed activity
NatureScot can only grant a licence permitting the use of more than two dogs to search for a wild mammal, stalk or flush it from cover and to search for and retrieve a wild mammal which has been killed as a result of that activity.
Once the wild mammal breaks cover, the dog handler must recall their dogs and the wild mammal should be dispatched by a legal means as soon as reasonably possible, or allowed to escape.
The Act defines ‘cover’ as a place above ground in which a wild mammal may be concealed from sight, but not including an enclosed place from which a wild mammal could not be flushed.
Applications must include a map or maps (at a suitable scale) of the area of land within which the proposed licensed activities would take place, the proposed locations of those licensed activities (outlined in the map), any areas of cover within or nearby such locations, and the location(s) of the livestock and /or woodlands and or / crops which require protection. The map(s) must also clearly show any significant landscape features in the location where the licensable activity is proposed. Please see Annex 1 and 2 for examples of maps suitable to support an application.
Taking account of the licensing tests, NatureScot may issue licences in respect of a more restricted location(s) than the applicant has requested. A licence can only be granted to the extent necessary to achieve the licensable purpose. NatureScot must therefore ensure the licences are not granted over a wider area than is necessary.
Applications must include a method statement detailing how the licensable activity will be undertaken. This statement should demonstrate how the location will be managed, for example, by the division of the area into manageable sections, and how the guns will be deployed systematically.
12. Species of wild mammal
Each licence application must be for a single species of wild mammal. Applicants who wish to control more than one mammal species need to complete a separate application form for each species.
Applicants who wish to apply for a licence to control a protected species of wild mammal, will also need to apply for a separate species licence. For more information on applying for a species licence, please see our website.
13. Licensing period
Licences granted for preventing serious damage to livestock, crops or woodlands can permit licensable activities for a maximum of 14 days, which must fall within a period of 6 consecutive months. Applicants must specify the number of days they consider to be required to undertake the licensable activity. Applicants should provide evidence along with the application which they consider demonstrates that the number of days requested is necessary in order to achieve the licensable purpose. NatureScot may grant a licence for a fewer number of days than requested by the applicant.
Licences for environmental benefit may be granted for a maximum of two years. Applicants can apply for a licence at any time but to avoid any unnecessary delays we advise anyone looking to obtain a licence to submit their application at the earliest opportunity to enable us to assess the application and to afford the applicant time to respond to any questions.
NatureScot can only grant a licence when it is satisfied that the licensed activity is necessary to benefit the environment or prevent serious damage. Licensed activity can only be necessary where it is undertaken at a point in time at which it will benefit the environment or prevent serious damage.
Accordingly, any licences issued by NatureScot may only permit licensed activity to be undertaken at specified times within any consecutive 2-year (environmental benefit) or 6-month (serious damage) period.
For example, a licence to prevent serious damage to livestock might only permit up to 14 days licensed activity to be carried out in the period leading up to and during the lambing season(s).
Applications must specify as accurately as possible the specific time periods of proposed licensable activity (including the proposed total period of licensable activity and the proposed start and end date of each period making up that total) within the relevant 6 month or 2-year period. Applications should include evidence which the applicant considers demonstrates that it is necessary for licensable activity to be undertaken at those times in order to achieve the licensable purpose.
NatureScot will assess each application on a case-by-case basis and may decide to offer a licence to undertake licensable activities at different points in time from that proposed in the application, for example, to limit disturbance to Schedule 1 birds during the breeding season.
In assessing applications, NatureScot will consider any need for flexibility around the points in time at which licensable activities can be carried out.
14. Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
Applications must specify whether any part of the proposed activity will take place in and / or adjacent to a SAC or SPA designated site. NatureScot has considered the risk to these sites and their qualifying features from licensed wild mammal control. This activity may impact on the qualifying interests of some these sites. Additional conditions may be attached to licences in order to protect these features. NatureScot has a responsibility to undertake a Habitats Regulations Appraisal for these sites and therefore may require additional information on where and how the applicant proposes to use dogs to control the wild mammal species so that we can fully assess the licence application. To check whether the proposal is within a protected area, see SiteLink.
For more information on NatureScot’s statutory responsibility on these protected sites, see Habitats Regulations Appraisal.
15. Control of dogs
The dogs used must be of an appropriate breed or type relative to the activity and must be under the control of the licence holder or dog handler (as the case may be) at all times. The Act states that a dog is under control when ‘a person who is responsible for the dog is able to direct the dog’s activity by physical contact or verbal or audible command’. Once a dog has found or flushed a wild mammal from an area of cover, the dogs must be immediately recalled.
A standard condition of a licence will require a minimum of 25% of the dogs used in any licensed activity to be fitted with a GPS tracking device to allow the dog handler to track the position of the dogs. The licence holder shall be obliged to ensure that the track data recorded by each of the GPS units fitted to the dogs is downloaded and stored by or on behalf of the licence holder until the expiry of the period of one year from the end of the term of the licence, and must provide that data to NatureScot or Police Scotland on request.
Using GPS tracking devices aids the operators in maintaining control of their dogs whilst they in areas of dense cover. The track data recorded by the GPS devices will provide evidence as to whether the dogs were “under control” and were working within the licensed area.
16. Methods of killing or release
The wild mammal which is being searched for, stalked or flushed should be shot dead, killed by a bird of prey or released as soon as reasonably possible. If an attempt to kill the wild mammal, results in it being injured but not killed, reasonable steps must be taken to kill it in a way (other than by using a dog) that causes it the minimum possible suffering.
17. Minimum number of guns
To ensure the wild mammal is dispatched as soon as reasonably possible, a licence will specify the minimum number of guns that must be deployed in suitable locations around each location to which the licence relates, before the dogs are released.
The names of the marksmen are not required in a licence application but the licence holder must record the names and home addresses of the marksmen and retain that information until the expiry of the period of one year from the end of the term of the licence. The licence holder must make that information available to NatureScot or Police Scotland, on request.
An application must specify the minimum number of guns which the applicant considers to be required for the licensed activity and must provide justification for that number, with reference to evidence. The evidence should include details of the terrain, the areas of cover on which the licensable activity is proposed to be carried out, and the number of expected exit points from each of those areas for the target wild mammal.
NatureScot will assess each application and determine if the number of guns proposed is sufficient to meet the objectives of the licensed activity.
18. Number of dogs
A licence will set a limit on the maximum number of dogs which can be used to search for, stalk or flush from cover a wild mammal and to search for and retrieve a wild mammal which has been killed as a result of the activity. It may be appropriate for different numbers of dogs to be deployed at different locations within a single licensed area.
An application must specify the minimum number of dogs which would be effective to carry out the activity and specify the breeds or types of dogs to be used, and must provide justification for that number, with reference to evidence. The evidence is likely to include details of landscape features and terrain in the area, the type, size and perimeter/shape of and area(s) of cover and the experience of the applicant / dog handler. If there is more than one location within a licensed area in which licensed activity requires to be undertaken, the application needs to justify, with reference to evidence, the minimum effective number of dogs which the applicant considers to be required for each location.
NatureScot will review the information in the application in assessing the maximum number of dogs required to undertake the activity. The aim is to balance the number of dogs required to effectively search for and/or flush from cover with the need to ensure that the dogs remain under control and minimise disturbance to non-target species.
Where the purpose of the licence is “preventing serious damage to livestock”, the application must include, with reference to evidence:
- The location of the livestock, including whether they are on in-bye or open hill,
- A statement of why and when the livestock will be vulnerable, for example the expected start and end of the lambing season,
- A description of the damage that the applicant considers will occur unless a licence is granted.
20. Crops or Woodlands
Where the purpose of the licence is “preventing serious damage to woodland or crops”, the application must include, with reference to evidence:
- The location and a description of the woodland or crops,
- A herbivore management plan, such as the herbivore management plan for mountain hare licences,
- A description of the serious nature of the damage that the applicant considers will occur unless a licence is granted.
21. Environmental Benefit
Licences under the environmental benefit exception may only be granted for one or more the following purposes:
a) Preserving, protecting or restoring a particular species (which may include controlling the number of a species for its welfare).
b) Preserving, protecting or restoring the diversity of animal or plant life.
c) Eradicating an invasive non-native species of wild mammal from an area.
Conserving and restoring a species will generally fall under purposes a) and b) above. To demonstrate that one of these purposes is met, the application needs to,
- Justify why the killing, capturing, or observing of the wild mammal is likely to help with preserving, protecting or restoring a particular species or its diversity.
- An understanding of the population that requires protection, this is likely to be in the form of a baseline survey of the animals or vegetation requiring protection on the site.
Where the purpose of the licence is “eradicating an invasive non-native species of wild mammal from an area,” the wild mammal must be an invasive non-native species (INNS) as defined in the Act, this must be either:
- A species included on the Scottish list of species of special concern, or
- A species not native to the area where the activity will take place and the wild mammal is having or likely to have a significant adverse impact on biodiversity, the environment, social or economic interests or human or animal health.
For more information on INNS and their impacts in Great Britain, please go to the Non-Native Species Information Portal and enter the name of an invasive species.
The application needs to demonstrate that eradicating the wild mammal from the local area is feasible. Whilst eradicating geographically isolated populations of INNS, such as those on islands, may be feasible, eradicating populations of widely spread mammal species is rarely practical. Most land managers in Scotland now focus on containing and supressing INNS populations to minimise their impacts by achieving local “functional eradication.” To be effective, this type of management needs to suppress the INNS population across a wide geographical area, usually as part of a coordinated control programme. Therefore, the application needs to demonstrate that the proposed activity is necessary to eradicate a geographically isolated population of INNS, or to support an INNS control plan or scheme across a wider geographical area.
NatureScot can only grant a licence for environmental benefit where we are satisfied that the activity will contribute towards a significant or long-term environmental benefit. The application must show how the activity is likely to contribute towards significant or long-term benefit. This should link to any current evidence of impact of the wild mammal species on the species in need of protection and the likely benefits of the activity.
The application should include a plan for monitoring whether the activity is achieving the desired environmental benefit. This plan should include proposals for monitoring species that will benefit, as well as the population of the wild mammal being controlled. The licence holder must submit a monitoring report as part of the licensing returns.
22. Location map(s)
For a licence to prevent serious damage, the application must include a map or maps showing:
- The location(s) at which the applicant wishes to undertake licensable activities, these should be outlined.
- Any areas of cover within those areas.
- The locations where the applicant considers that serious damage will occur if a licence is not granted (for example the location of vulnerable livestock)
See Annex 1 for an example of a location map for preventing serious damage.
For a licence seeking to deliver environmental benefit, the application must include a map or maps showing:
- The areas which require protection (for example the areas used by ground nesting birds)
- Outlining the areas of where licensed activity is sought (where no other lawful means would be effective)
See Annex 2 for an example location map for environmental benefit.
The map(s) should be at an appropriate scale and show significant landscape features.
If you already have a licence number, include it in the subject line of your email, or have it to hand when you call.