Scottish ministers are cracking down on hunting with hounds in moves that will effectively shut down the activity north of the border.

They have pledged to close loopholes in the law, including limiting to just two the number of dogs that can be used to hunt down a fox in hiding.

Measures are also being planned to ensure that “trail hunting” is not adopted north of the border.

Hunting foxes with dogs was banned in Scotland in 2002 but hunts across the UK can exploit an exemption called “flushing to guns”, which means letting hounds chase foxes out from cover such as woods into the open, to be shot by a marksman.

Until now Scottish hunts have had no restriction on how many dogs they can use, but the new steps will bring Scotland into line with England, where the limit is two.

In a statement to Holyrood on improving animal welfare, rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said a new bill would include pre-emptive measures to prevent “trail-hunting” becoming established in Scotland but did not clarify what the measures would be. 

In England, hunt packs devised “trail hunting” after hunting mammals with foxes became illegal in 2005. Monitors say it is commonly used as a cover, allowing fox-hunting to continue.

But Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg called the proposed legislation “another nail for important rural industries”, saying rural workers were being used as bargaining chips.