'LAST week the Animals and Wildlife Bill was passed at Holyrood. This Bill brought about some much-needed improvements to the way wildlife crime is treated and enhanced protections for many animals. Unfortunately, it also highlighted how much influence wealthy landed interests have within our politics and it still leaves Scotland lagging behind world leaders when it comes to animal welfare.

I was pleased that a Green proposal to bring an end to the mass slaughter of endangered mountain hares was passed. I also managed to highlight the problems of acoustic deterrent devices being used in our seas to scare seals and the damage these torture devices do to the hearing of dolphins and porpoises. Government accepted my proposal to report on the problems they are causing and look at ways to ban them.

But, as they have done too often in the past, the SNP Government missed so many opportunities to make this Bill better. One example was their steadfast refusal to listen to the evidence and bring back the full ban on the tail docking of puppies.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, it involves cutting or crushing muscle, nerves and bones, without anaesthetic, in puppies under five days old. If done badly, it can cause the dog chronic pain throughout its life. Evidence shows that it inflicts significant pain on puppies and deprives dogs of an important means of expression in adulthood. Animal welfare experts are clear that there is no scientific basis for tail docking and the British Veterinary Association agree the practice should be banned in all circumstances except for treating an injury.

The Government failed to provide a shred of proper evidence on why the practice should continue and it became clear this was a capitulation to the country sports lobby who want to continue to mutilate dogs to make them easier to manage when used in hunting.

I also put forward amendments which would have protected several wild species, such as badgers, which the SNP rejected. There have been many instances of badger setts being disturbed or destroyed in Fife, including at the site of the old Tullis Russell paper mill. Sett destruction is devastating for badgers and can result in whole families being crushed to death or maimed.

This can happen during reckless construction work but there have been cases, including at least one in Leven, of setts being deliberately destroyed. It’s easy for people involved to pass the blame until ultimately no one takes responsibility. My amendment would have made it clear that the landowner bears ultimate responsibility where a sett has been destroyed by a contractor.

Beavers are under threat as well. These creatures do wonders for biodiversity in wetlands and can form a natural part of flood defence. The bulk of the population exists in Tayside and dead or dying beavers have been spotted at the mouth of the Tay. Despite their protected status, beavers continue to be shot by landowners, which is unnecessary as they could be moved to other locations if causing disruption to farming, again the government took no action to stop this.

There’s no doubt that this Bill was progress, but if Scotland truly wishes to be a world leader in animal welfare, the Government needs to take these opportunities to improve regulations and stop spurning the evidence in favour of vested interests'.