Scottish Natural Heritage, in partnership with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and Scottish Land & Estates, has issued a press release (here) calling for ‘voluntary restraint’ on the large scale culling of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors. Some of you may have read about it a few days ago on Mark Avery’s blog here.
In the original press release (which was amended one day later), it was stated:
“The bold step by SNH, SLE and GWCT should help ensure that future management is sustainable“.
What a steaming pile of tosh. This doesn’t come anywhere near being “a bold step”. A bold step would have been for SNH to exercise the precautionary principle and enforce an immediate and indefinite moratorium on the wide-scale, unregulated mass slaughter of mountain hares until the effect of such killing on the mountain hare population can be rigorously assessed.
The concept of calling for voluntary restraint from grouse moor managers is farcical. So many of them have refused even to adhere to 60-year-old conservation legislation (i.e. not to poison, trap or shoot protected raptors) so the chances of them volunteering restraint to not slaughter a partially-legitimate quarry species is pretty minimal.
Asking for voluntary restraint on hare-killing is also not a new approach. Last year SNH said: “We don’t support large, indiscriminate culls of mountain hares and advise moorland managers to talk to us if they are thinking of culling hares in large numbers” (see here).
“We do not recommend the indiscriminate culling of hares; apart from the direct impact on the hare population, there may also be the indirect effect of a reduction of the food supply for larger raptors, including eagles. In certain circumstances, however, culling may be considered necessary……but further advice should be sought from SNH before embarking on a cull programme“.
So how many grouse moor estates, do you think, contacted SNH for advice before embarking on a cull programme?
According to allegations made by leading upland ecologist Dr Adam Watson and based on decades of scientific fieldwork, not many. In his 2013 book, Mammals in north-east Highlands, Watson writes:
“I know of no grouse-moor estate within the range of the mountain hare that has not practiced or does not practice heavy killing of hares, with the exceptions of Edinglassie, Invermark, Glen Muick and Balmoral (but most of Balmoral is deer land rather than grouse moor). The only other heather-moorland areas that I know which are free from heavy killing are those owned by non-sporting agencies or by individuals primarily interested in wildlife conservation, such as the RSPB at Abernethy, SNH at Inshriach, the National Trust for Scotland at Mar Lodge, and Miss Walker of the Aberlour shortbread company, who owns Conval hills near Dufftown“.
He goes on to name various estates who, he alleges, “have been reducing the numbers of mountain hares greatly“, some dating back to the 1980s. His named estates include Altyre, Castle Grant, Lochindorb, Farr, Millden, Glenogil, Glen Dye, Dinnet, Invercauld, Tillypronie, Glen Buchat, Candacraig, Allargue, Delnadamph, Crown Estate, Fasque, Cabrach, Glenfiddich, Glenlochy, Gannochy, Fettercairn, Cawdor, Corrybrough, Moy, Glen Lyon.
[Incidentally, this book is a goldmine of information about what goes on on the grouse moors of NE Scotland. Ignore the bizarre front cover and Watson’s somewhat erratic writing style – this book is crammed with details gleaned from decades of Watson’s scientific field work and is well worth its £9.99 price tag. There’s even an allegation that “In 2010, Millden Estate released red grouse from elsewhere, for shooting“. If that’s true it raises a number of issues, not least whether they had a licence to translocate red grouse].
Watson’s observations, and those of others, have led to a number of high-profile media reports about the mass slaughter of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors (e.g. see here, here and here) and even Parliamentary questions (see here and here). Tellingly, MSP Alison Johnstone (Lothian, Scottish Green Party) has recently followed up on the answers provided last year and on 10th December 2014 she lodged a further question (due to be answered on 7th Jan 2015) requesting an update on how SNH intend to assess whether mountain hares are in a favourable conservation status. We already know how this question will be answered – the Environment Minister will simply recite the content of the latest SNH press release.
In addition to calling for ‘voluntary restraint’, the press release tells us that the three organisations will be ‘developing a reliable and cost-effective field method’ to form the basis of a long-term monitoring programme. Previous attempts at this have failed miserably, and some correspondence from earlier this year between Dr Watson [AW] and SNH about these ‘field methods’ is really quite illuminating: (thanks to the blog reader who sent us these)
In Dr Watson’s view (shared by many of us), these further ‘trials’ simply represent more procrastination from SNH but will be used by them (and probably by GWCT & SLE) to proclaim that “Everything’s ok, we’re sorting it”. That may fool some but the awful, bloody reality will probably not change.
A final point. We are fascinated to see that this ‘joint initiative’ is coming from not only SNH but also GWCT and SLE. The call for ‘voluntary restraint’ on the mass killing of mountain hares seems to be slightly at odds with activities carried out on Lochindorb Estate when it was owned by the GWCT’s former Scottish Committee Chairman, Alasdair Laing (e.g. see here). As for SLE, their view on the destruction of thousands of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors can be read here.
To read our previous blogs on mountain hares, click here [and scroll down through the posts]
To view some shocking, sickening photographs of the mass killing of mountain hares on a grouse moor go here.