Unfortunately, wild animals in Scotland are frequently ‘controlled’ or ‘managed’ – killed, moved, deterred, contracepted, or otherwise manipulated. These interventions vary in how much harm they cause; some are extremely cruel while others have less of an impact on the animals. OneKind opposes harming wild animals, but we know that it happens and in some situations it is not easily avoidable.
What is missing in Scotland is a process to guide decisions around if, when, and how such interventions should take place: to ensure that ethical reasoning is applied, evidence is consulted, and animal welfare is prioritised.
Such a framework exists, however, and we would like to see it embedded into Scottish Government and societal practices. It was created by an international group of experts and consists of seven principles to follow, in order, when making decisions that will impact wild animals.
The seven principles
Firstly, modify human practices to address the root causes rather than only the problematic outcome. The first principle also invites a shift in mindset towards tolerance and coexistence.
Second, justify action with evidence that substantial harm is being caused to people, ecosystems, or other animals. This involves reconciling real and perceived harms and conflicting values.
The third principle is to set clear and achievable outcome-based objectives, which are continuously monitored and adaptive.
The fourth principle says that animal welfare must be prioritised, by choosing the methods that cause the least amount of harm to the least number of animals. Both typical effects and worst-case scenarios should be considered, as should the effect of the knowledge and skill level of the person involved.
The fifth principle is that the social acceptability of practices should be evaluated, via an open process of community engagement, informed by the relevant science and including an ethical review process.
Sixth, any action taken should be part of a long-term systematic plan. Without this, methods may be used repeatedly without achieving a sustainable solution, possibly leading to senseless killing.
The seventh principle is that decision making should be based on the specifics of the situation, not labels applied to certain species. Terms such as ‘vermin’ or ‘pest’ signify an attitude that those animals are worth less and should be killed as a first response.
Our work on this
For the past few years, we have been urging the Scottish Government to adopt the seven principles in all of its wild animal ‘management’. We have done so in person when meeting with Ministers and the wildlife management team, and in writing, in response to the consultation on foxhunting, for example. We brought up the importance of introducing such a framework in written and spoken evidence to the Rural Affairs, Environment and Land Reform Committee in the Scottish Parliament.
We also included this in our recent manifesto and have mentioned the seven principles more widely when discussing treatment of mountain hares, and deer, amongst others. In November 2021 we spoke on the topic at the REVIVE conference in Perth.
A new opportunity
Colin Smyth, MSP, has introduced a motion to the Scottish Parliament noting the benefits of the 7 principles being introduced in Scotland. If this motion gains strong cross-party support, there is a chance it will be debated in Parliament. Please write to your MSP and ask them to put their name to the motion.
This is a chance to make a real difference for wild animals. We believe that a fundamental shift in mindset is required, away from viewing other animals as a resource to be ‘managed’ or a nuisance to be ‘controlled’ towards valuing them as other sentient beings, who each contribute richly to a vibrant functioning ecosystem, and should be allowed to thrive.