MINISTERS have been urged to tighten controls over fox hunting after a report revealed the animals can be of benefit to farmers.

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, put down a motion in Holyrood calling for the introduction of stricter legislation which coincided with the publication of the study.

The report commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland claimed that foxes can each be worth an average of £500 per annum to farmers, as they keep rabbit numbers down.

The Scottish government announced a review of the existing legislation, the Protection of Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, in September after surveillance of five of Scotland’s 10 hunts suggested that they were routinely ignoring the legislation.

Campaigners want to see the law amended to reduce the number of dogs used in flushing to guns to two, to prevent hunts from using a full pack under cover of the exemption and to add a clause which would outlaw reckless behaviour.

Johnstone also made the call after SNP MPs voted in July against plans to relax laws south of the Border. “Scotland’s fox hunting legislation needs tightened,” Johnstone said.

“Reducing the number of dogs that can be used would bring the law into line with that in England and Wales. I have urged Scottish ministers to look at this and they will be under additional pressure from their own party members following the fox hunting vote in the Commons in July. I understand campaigners are due to meet with ministers and I hope they make progress.”

Yesterday’s report was challenged by NFU Scotland as betraying an ignorance of modern farming.

NFU Scotland’s Vice President Andrew McCormick, a beef and sheep farmer from Dumfries and Galloway said his organisation totally rejected the view of those who funded this report that Scottish legislation should be changed to mean that “no wild mammals can ever be hunted again under any circumstances”.

Scottish Countryside Alliance director Jamie Stewart added: “This report has been commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports from an academic who has created many such documents for them over the years, and contains no new research.

“The fact remains that governments from both sides of the border accept that farmers should be able to control fox populations and a number of methods including shooting and snaring remain legal...We believe that farmers and landowners should have the best options for wildlife management.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland led the way in addressing welfare concerns with the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act in 2002 and we remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of welfare for our wild animals.

“We have said we will review the Act to ensure it is providing the necessary level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals, while at the same time allowing effective and humane control of these animals where needed. Should the review conclude that changes to the legislation are required we will aim to consult and bring forward new legislation after May 2016.”

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, dating back to 2002, was a key piece of legislation passed in the first session of the new devolved parliament and was based on a member’s bill by former Labour MSP Mike Watson.

It was fiercely opposed by the Scottish Countryside Alliance, which insisted fox hunting was a centuries-old pursuit and an important part of rural life.

Twelve years on from the bill being passed, fox hunting still continues with hunts claiming to offer a pest-control service to landowners and farmers to remove foxes which are threatening livestock.