However, Ms McAllan said that the Bill would close loopholes in the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, which she said had led to “widespread public concern that illegal hunting has persisted in Scotland”.
She said that the licensing scheme was included after Lord Bonomy warned limiting the number of hounds used in hunts would “seriously compromise effective pest control in the country”, particularly on hilly grounds and in woodland.
“So it is an exception to an exception, it will be construed very narrowly and it will only be available where there is no other effective method,” she added.
Speaking to MSPs moments before the vote, which took place shortly after 9pm on Tuesday, Ms McAllan insisted that the Bill would not impinge on legitimate pest control by farmers and gamekeepers.
However, Colin Smyth, a Scottish Labour MSP, said that the legislation did not go far enough as it still contained loopholes that would allow hunting with dogs to continue.
The Bill makes it a criminal offence to hunt a wild mammal using a dog except in “limited specified circumstances”, such as preventing serious damage to livestock, woodland or crops.
Tougher process for landowners
While hunts with unlimited numbers of dogs are currently permitted for these purposes, the legislation imposes a cap of two dogs and states land managers must apply for a licence if they want to use more.
The Bill also states only one dog can be used to search for or flush foxes and or mink from cover below ground and bans trail hunting, where dogs are directed to follow an animal’s scent.
To qualify for a wildlife management licence to hunt with more than two dogs, the Scottish Government said that applicants must demonstrate “there is no other solution which would be effective”, such as reinforced fencing round livestock.
NatureScot will only permit the use of the “minimum number of dogs” its officials consider are required and any licenses issued will expire after a maximum of 14 days, forcing land managers to make repeated applications for year-round pest control.
Those convicted of the most serious offences of hunting a wild mammal using a dog could be hit with a prison sentence of up to five years and “an unlimited fine”.