The hot hare debate

Mountain hare has been a controversial topic in the press this week, with wildlife charities calling on the Scottish government to impose a three-year cull ban on the species. 

Gamekeepers have called this proposal “environmentally irresponsible”. The charities, including the RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, warn that such large-scale culling across Scotland will have a devastating effect on the population, and call for safeguards to be put in place until the international conservation obligation is met – mountain hares are currently protected under the EU’s Habitats Directive. A spokesperson from RSPB Scotland said: “We don’t know what impact these large scale culls are having on mountain hares’ wider conservation status which could mean that the Scottish government may be in breach of its legally binding international EU obligations to this species.”

Organisations are actively addressing grouse moors, as they believe hare management is solely done to protect red grouse from the tick-borne louping ill virus. However, a spokesperson from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has said: “Allowing hare numbers to multiply uncontrolled over three years, as suggested, will have huge grazing impacts, including around forestry blocks, where culling currently takes place. The numbers of tick, already a growing problem in the countryside, will escalate, endangering any bird that nests on the ground, not to mention the potential repercussions for human health. It will be bad for birds and bad for biodiversity.”

Further to this argument, the SGA spokesperson pointed out that hare numbers outside of managed grouse moors are reduced, yet charities calling for the ban are not implementing conservation regimes on their own land to support the species. “We sincerely hope Scottish government and SNH officials will ask the groups calling for this measure why it is that they have so few mountain hares on their own ground compared to grouse moors. The truth is that, away from managed grouse moors, mountain hare populations are at nothing higher than subsistence level yet groups asking for this measure have the power to change this today by introducing management regimes, on their own ground, to benefit hares. Why this is not done is the question which should be asked at the highest level.”

In light of this, the association has challenged conservation groups to provide evidence that their hare management regimes have produced more mountain hare than a well managed grouse moor. It will add the incentive of £1,000 reward to create greater interest in the study. The SGA went on to say “…an inaccurate image is painted that mountain hares are endangered because of activity on grouse moors when the largest elephant in the room is why conservationists have very few mountain hares themselves and do not manage their own ground to benefit them. We, therefore, are happy to offer a £1000 reward to any of these groups who can prove that they can come close to producing the numbers of hares that are prevalent on grouse moors, even after gamekeepers have undertaken their controlled annual cull.”

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