Scotland could be a world leader when it comes to animal welfare, according to South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Animal Welfare spokesperson Colin Smyth.
The local MSP led a debate in the Scottish Parliament last Tuesday (31 May) on Scotland’s potential to lead the way in shifting attitudes towards managing wildlife and predator control.
The debate was the result of a parliamentary Motion which received cross party support from a third of MSPs and questioned the deep rooted behaviours entrenched in how society deals with wild animals perceived to be ‘pests’.
Colin Smyth’s motion centred around the concept of applying ethical principles, known as the seven principles, to any wild animal control. The seven principles ensure that where there is a perceived need for wildlife intervention then a framework is followed where ethical reasoning is applied, evidence is consulted, and animal welfare is prioritised.
Speaking in Parliament, Colin Smyth said: “Although there has been much progress in animal welfare, there is much more still to do, not least in relation to our approach to wildlife management, which is too often ad hoc and can be illogical and, often, unscientific.
“Our attitudes to wild animals also differ significantly to our attitudes to domestic or farmed animals.
“Even among wild animals, protections vary from species to species and circumstance to circumstance, even though all animals are sentient—they, like us, feel pain; they feel distress.
“The seven internationally recognised principles were developed by a panel of 20 experts that was convened in 2015 at the University of British Columbia.
“They are not intended to prohibit or prevent wildlife control, including lethal control, but they aim to reduce unnecessary actions and, therefore, suffering, and ensure that, when controls are used, they are justifiable and acceptable.”
Speaking after the debate, Colin Smyth added: “Too often, our approach to wildlife management is ad-hoc. There is some good practice but also examples of appalling cruelty. Our laws and practises can be piecemeal, and there is no consistency between species or when assessing methods of control.
“Having an overarching set of principles to guide decisions would help all those tasked with wildlife management and ensure if, when and how a particular method of control is used, animal welfare is properly considered.
“These ethical principles are internationally recognised, but if Scotland were to incorporate them, ideally into law, it would make us world leading when it comes to animal welfare.”