MSP wants answers about mountain hare culling

MH1Last week we blogged about the claims made by a leading upland ecologist that mountain hares were suffering “massive declines” in parts of Aberdeenshire due to uncontrolled culling on grouse moors (see here).

We followed it up with some grim photographs showing piles of dead mountain hares that had been left to rot on an Angus grouse moor (see here). We also encouraged readers to contact SNH to ask them about what we saw as their long-term failure to implement an effective monitoring scheme to protect this species. Many of you did contact SNH (thank you) and here is their generic reply:

Good afternoon

Thank you for your email which was sent to one of our members of staff. We have received a quite a few similar responses. We can’t answer them all individually but we would like to clarify a few points to explain what we have been doing and propose to do.

Firstly, a close season on hare control was introduced in 2011 to protect the species during the main part of the breeding season (March – July inclusive). Without conclusive evidence that hare populations are declining generally across Scotland as a result of over-exploitation, full all year round protection could not be justified at the time.

Because hare populations are naturally cyclical, monitoring overall trends over time is complex and problematic. SNH has been working closely with the leading UK experts on this species since 2005, to increase our understanding of their current status and to develop a reliable and cost-effective method of assessing their numbers.

We would like to reiterate the following points:

SNH does not support indiscriminate, large scale culls of mountain hares and, while moorland managers are advised to consult SNH if they propose such measures, the only cases that we are currently able to regulate directly, are in relation to licensable activities where the number of hares allowed to be taken is restricted.

We have heard of allegations that some estates systematically remove mountain hares as a prey base for golden eagles, but it is very difficult to prove this to be case, given the range of other legitimate reasons for controlling hare numbers (but not eradicating them.) SNH condemns any systematic attempt to reduce hare numbers for this reason and we would emphasise that, not only is it extremely bad practice, it demonstrates no understanding of the ecology of predators such as eagles, namely that if mountain hares become scarce or absent, the predator will switch increasingly to other more available prey such as red grouse.

We are currently working with both the James Hutton Institute and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to develop a further programme of research, building on previous work, to address the fundamental question of how best to count hares, with the intention of commencing further fieldwork later in 2014.

These are complex issues which we will continue to tackle. We hope this information has been helpful.

Customer Relations Team, Scottish Natural Heritage

AlisonJohnstoneMSPSince then, Alison Johnstone MSP (Lothian, Scottish Green Party) has lodged the following parliamentary questions:

Question S4W-18470: To ask the Scottish Government what information it holds (a) on the health of mountain hare populations and (b) that is relevant to assessing whether mountain hare are in a favourable conservation status.

Question S4W-18471: To ask the Scottish Government what conservation action is planned to protect mountain hare populations.

Question S4W-18472: To ask the Scottish Government what information it holds on the number of mountain hare that are culled annually and the impact of this on golden eagles (a) dispersing from, (b) likely to be recruited to or (c) nesting in Natura sites for which golden eagles are a designated interest.

Question S4W-18473: To ask the Scottish Government what information it holds on a link between the culling of mountain hare and the incidence of (a) louping ill or (b) other diseases transmitted by sheep ticks or other hare parasites to red grouse.

Question S4W-18474: To ask the Scottish Government how it controls the culling of mountain hare.

Question S4W-18475: To ask the Scottish Government how many applications it has (a) received and (b) granted for the culling of mountain hare since 2011, broken down by (i) year, (ii) purpose and (iii) area.

Expected answer date is 4th December 2013.

This is the second time this year that parliamentary questions have been asked about mountain hares, although last time the focus was more on the use of snares to trap/kill the hares (see here).

There’ll be a great deal of interest in the answers to this latest batch.

6 thoughts on “MSP wants answers about mountain hare culling”

  1. To paraphrase the SNH spin doctors.
    ‘Sweet FA.’

    So far they have taken 8 years ‘to develop a reliable and cost-effective method of assessing their numbers’ and still no indication that they have a method. Pathetic.
    The only defence i can find for SNH andf NE is that they are probably working on a shoe-string.

    1. Another “defence” for them will be a lack of cooperation from the grouse shooting estates..who, of course, know best…

  2. As an old born in Govan slum man who craved to see the countryside as a boy, and who learned to treasure wildlife and not shoot, snare or poison it, I weep when I see this hecatomb of hares, left callously to rot. Why should we have to tolerate such an “industry” in our country, owning one-third of the landscape, that decides what can live and die? In the past, and it lingers to the present, the gamekeeper and his employers were portrayed as guardians of the countryside, by clearing “vermin” from it, just like the Einsatzgruppen did with people in Eastern Europe in the Hitler War. In the USA, there is a call by the shooters there, to have the National Parks opened up for the slaughter of wildlife, and in some parts of Alaska trophy hunting is upsetting the structure of the bear populations. It is of world wide concern, that hunting has become one of the biggest threats to the conservation of certain iconic animals, such as the big cats, elephant, rhino, bear, wolf, wolverine and various species of deer. The great bird migrations from Africa to Europe are threatened by thousands of shooters. They cannot help themselves, for their “sport” has become an addiction for many. Can the level-headed among such a community, not start taking some kind of action to rein back this obsession for over-kill? Why is the WWF not being vocal on this issue, or are too many of its top brass hunters?

  3. As somebody who gathers material on snaring throughout Scotland I often discover dozens of hares dumped into stink pits as bait (A legal method of snaring where a ring of snares are constructed around a pile of dead animals, using the smell of rotting flesh to attract animals into the wire traps). The number of hares I find appears to increase during the winter months.

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