Groups Call for Halt to Mountain Hare Culls

A coalition of environmental and outdoor groups has called on the Scottish Government to act now to protect mountain hares, which they say face the possibility of local extinctions as a result of heavy culling on grouse moors.

Mountain hares - a common sight on some hills, but are they endangered elsewhere?, 218 kb
Mountain hares - a common sight on some hills, but are they endangered elsewhere?
© James Roddie

"Some grouse moor managers have no concern for the long-term viability of mountain hare populations"

The group is asking for a temporary ban on all mountain hare culling on grouse moors, until measures are put in place to ensure their numbers can remain at sustainable levels. If the Scottish Government does nothing it may, they say, be in breach of international obligations.

Despite the introduction of a period of 'voluntary restraint' three years ago, hares are still routinely culled on grouse shooting estates, according to multiple reports from across Scotland, a situation that is believed to be having a serious negative effect. It has been shown that the culls are leading to severe population declines, say conservationists, potentially wiping them out altogether in some areas.

This practice of culling has developed relatively recently, in the belief that it protects red grouse against the tick-borne louping ill virus and so increases the surplus of grouse to be shot at the end of the summer. However there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this claim, says the coalition of campaigners.

Susan Davies, Director of Conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said:

"Mountain hares are an iconic species that act as an indicator of the ecological health of our uplands, and seeing them gives much pleasure to hillwalkers and tourists alike."

"There has been continued and widespread culling throughout the period of voluntary restraint that was called for three years ago to allow research to be carried out. This suggests that some grouse moor managers have no concern for the long-term viability of mountain hare populations."

"We believe that grouse moor managers have a responsibility for this important native species. Lethal control should be halted until there is both accurate information on the number of hares culled, and the true effect of these culls on the health of the hare population is known."

They can be real characters, but that doesn't stop them being culled by the score , 186 kb
They can be real characters, but that doesn't stop them being culled by the score
© James Roddie

Duncan Orr-Ewing from RSPB Scotland, added:

"The Scottish Government needs to do more to safeguard these iconic species of our upland areas. In 2014 we had serious concerns that the notion of voluntary restraint would be ignored by many in the grouse shooting industry and, with the evidence of culls continuing on many moors over the last three years, it seems that these fears have been well founded."

"The start of the mountain hare season has already begun meaning hare populations will continue to be put at risk by unregulated culls that we believe, are resulting in localised disappearance of hare populations. We still do not know what impact these large scale culls are having on mountain hares' wider conservation status and this could mean that the Scottish Government may be in breach of its legally binding international obligations for this species."

In May of this year an independently led expert group was announced by the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, set up to look at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and legally. The issue has already attracted support from within the political establishment.

Alison Johnstone MSP of the Scottish Green Party has added her voice to the demands:

"The mountain hare is a true icon of our upland areas and an important part of our natural heritage" she said.

"The unnecessary and unregulated culling of mountain hares on intensive grouse moors across Scotland is damaging populations of this species beyond recovery. I have previously asked the Cabinet Secretary to ban these culls, at the very least in our National Parks and I support the call from these 10 organisations for the government to do more to safeguard populations of mountain hares and implement a moratorium on culls until work can be carried out to assure those concerned that any necessary mountain hare management can be sustainable."

The organisations involved are: RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Raptor Study Group, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Cairngorms Campaign, National Trust for Scotland, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Mammal Society, John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland.

In response to all this, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said that conservationists had provided no evidence that the decline in hare numbers was confined to shooting estates.

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