Thanks to the recent Wildilfe and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 [also known as the WANE Act], there is now a closed season which prevents the killing of hares during certain periods in the year. The closed season for mountain hares begins today (March 1) until 31 July. This means that it is now an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a mountain hare in the closed season. The closed season for brown hares is Feb 1 – Sept 30.
It’s important that this new legislation is effectively enforced. Hares are an essential part of the golden eagle’s diet, especially in the summer months, and there have long been concerns that the widespread killing of mountain hares on grouse moors (estimated at 25,000 per year) is having a detrimental impact on golden eagle breeding productivity in certain parts of the country (see the SNH Conservation Framework for Golden Eagles here).
During the closed season, ALL killing of mountain hares is now unlawful, unless a specific SNH licence has been granted to permit killing within this period. Licences can only be granted for specific purposes which include preventing spread of disease and preventing serious damage. However, SNH guidance states that a licence will only be granted in exceptional circumstances (see here).
This is important for the general public to understand. If anyone sees any evidence of mountain hares being killed between now and 31 July, it will most likely be unlawful (although not ‘certainly’ unlawful) and should therefore be reported straight away so that the authorities can check with SNH whether a licence has been issued.
There are also restrictions on the methods used to kill mountain hares – and these restrictions apply throughout the year (even during the open season when killing mountain hares is permitted). In general terms, it is an offence to trap mountain hares in snares (although again, there are exceptions and a special licence is available in some circumstances). Whether the snare has been set to target the mountain hare specifically, or for some other animal (e.g. a fox) is irrelevant. It could be considered ‘reckless’ under the legislation if a snare has been set in an area known to be frequented by mountain hares. The ‘approved’ method of killing mountain hares is to shoot them (but only during the open season, NOT during the closed season, and even then there are further restrictions on the type of shooting permitted).
Anyone out and about on the moors this spring and summer should keep an eye out for any sign of unlawful mountain hare killing. Take photographs, note your location and REPORT IT. We recommend informing the police and especially the SSPCA.
SSPCA TELEPHONE HOTLINE: 03000-999-999
Mountain hare information from the Hare Preservation Trust here
Mountain hare information from The Mammal Society here