Pointless call for ‘voluntary restraint’ on Scottish grouse moor mountain hare massacres

mountain hare cull Angus glensScottish 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).

And even way back in 2003, Scotland’s Moorland Forum published a document called Principles of Moorland Management. On page 27 it says the following:

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.

Adam Watson Mammals in NE Highlands[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)

AW letter to SNH 14 February 2014

SNH response to AW 7 March 2014

AWresponse to SNH 15 March 2014

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.

44 thoughts on “Pointless call for ‘voluntary restraint’ on Scottish grouse moor mountain hare massacres”

  1. When are SNH going to get real and grow a backbone, don’t they realise that the shooting estates are just having a good old Turkish at them, its obvious they don’t give a damn what the SNH or anybody else for that matter say or do. On the other hand, perhaps the main reason SNH act so pathetically is because they’re up to their armpits with the shooting fraternity and their ilk and will do anything they ask of them.

  2. I hope that SNH staff don’t read this before the New Year break. I’d hate them not to enjoy their time off in the hills, although Doctor Watson seems to doubt if some of them will be going out on the hills. Tremendous letters.

  3. What’s going in at the top of SNH? Weren’t they once widely respected by those at the forefront of conservation? These days they would rather see red grouse as Scotland’s national bird (too worried about the political fallout of nominating golden eagle) and consider a joint request with SLE / GWCT as a ‘bold’ request. A sad demise…

    1. Of course they do, that’s why they are only asking for voluntary restraint! They know full well that their mates on the shooting estates it will continue just as before. Time to make SNH a totally independent body or disband it altogether.

  4. Would petitions through the usual internet sites highlighting the massaxre of these wonderful animals be of any use?
    Care2 seems to have a worldwide audience that might carry some weight. The evil of grouse moorland management must be highlighted in whatever means possible.

    All the very best for a successful New Year.

  5. It’s just so horrible, and I can’t believe people still kill animals for “sport” or so that they can then go shoot others for “sport”. It’s not a sport. It’s cruel and says so very much about the culture that sustains this behaviour, that these people want to kill creatures for fun. Those people are ultimately impotent in their minds and hearts that they need to do this.

  6. The Mountain Hare is slaughtered by fools who think their something special in the community and strut about with that smirk of defiance ,I’ll do what I want because I can and no MSP,MEP,MP,Council,Police Authority,conservation group or joe public is going to spoil my fun with my fellow “mates”(freaks) And what a load of tosh about the reasons why they are “culled” they are slaughtered in such vast numbers because they are food source for Raptors.
    The Independent States of Scotland and England are a law unto themselves.

  7. I remember when one of 12 young hen harriers was found dead (the other 11 disappeared without trace). The GWCT examined the corpse and declared “fox predation”. SNH didn’t comment and trusted the GWCT.

    How stupid are they?

  8. This is showing up SNH for what they are XXXXX. If anybody is driving near Lochindorb and comes across mountain hares dead on the road, stop and have a look at some of them. They are not all road kill as most people would think. Some have snare marks on there bodies and been thrown on to the road by people unknown, XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

  9. a call for voluntary restraint on culling Mountain Hares speaks volumes, this is something even other country sports people have reservations about, this equates to culling partridge so you can shoot more pheasant, it’s the same as culling duck so you can shoot more geese, this is choosing which game species is more important than the other. this is choosing whose country sport is worth most, this is saying my sport is more important than yours. the reason they’ve called for a voluntary restraint is they dont have the balls to stop the culling, they know there is public revulsion over this so they’ve decided to do a three year survey! this either gives them three years to eradicate the mountain hare or come up with some ridiculous science that buys them even more time. again a call for voluntary restraint shows there is no leadership to say we STOP this now, no leadership to say we know this is wrong and it is harming our reputation, again this is a sport being run by old men clinging on to what little power they have and dragging the sport down with them
    all the best to you guys and once again thanks for what you are achieving and for blocking my libellous comments ;-) cheers guys

    1. Dear Merlin and others,
      I don’t think you have quite grasped the meaning of conservation. In my opinion the definition is on the lines of preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment. I emphasise the importance of a natural environment in this definition. Quite rightly a ‘natural environment’ should encompass all living things on earth that are suited to a certain habitat. In this case you are arguing that the culling of mountain hares may lead to the eradication of the species in the Cairngorm and highland area as a result of a preference by individuals to increase grouse numbers. I would like to establish that in a ‘natural environment’ there should be an even distribution and number of all species to create a healthy eco-system. Due to the severity of winters in the past years the number of mountain hares has increased. This is caused by their natural advantage to other species with their camouflaged pelt. Moreover the number of mountain hares flourish on grouse moors as a result of pest control and habitat management. In this way, it can be seen that numbers of mountain hare in the region stated in the article have been not only healthy but flourishing.
      Your next argument against my points above will relate to the recent increase in the shooting of mountain hares. In contrast to popular belief most grouse moors are run with an outlook to conserve the beautiful landscape. A major part of this landscape is that of the red grouse. Red grouse have been hit particularly hard recently by the tick which dramatically reduce the numbers of young grouse. In order to control the tick problem certain measures are implemented: Sheep dippping and the reduction of large mammals. This is not only restricted to the shooting of hares but also to deer and rabbits. By keeping the population of mountain hares at a reasonable and safe level the environment improves. Especially as hares are also effected by the increase in tick.
      In this way, although you seem repulsed by the idea of shooting certain animals as a means of conservation I think you should look into numbers more closely. Moreover, you use incredibly stereotypical comments about estates which alludes to a certain naivity and ignorance on the subject. Perhaps further experience and reading may make you more reasonable on the subject. I agree that nobody wants to see the extenction of the mountain hare but, it is a statement based on very shaky footing.

      Regards Harry

      1. Eloquently put Harry, but a couple of points you made don’t seem to ring true, you wrote

        “in the past years the number of mountain hares has increased”

        If this was the case why would SNH, GWCT and SLE be calling for voluntary restraint on culling?

        “Red grouse have been hit particularly hard recently by the tick which dramatically reduce the numbers of young grouse”

        Strange comment when most moors are claiming to have recorded an exceptional year, perhaps if you read more about the current situation and managed to take off the grouse coloured spectacles from time to time you might not be quite as ignorant or naive about the subject

        regards Merlin

        1. An exceptional year relies on several factors not just the reduction of tick: weather, stock, pest control etc. Therefore as a consequence of managing the numbers of mammals they have helped the numbers of grouse increase. However, numbers of grouse is also cyclical.
          May I ask whether you live in a city? Considering that I live on the heather clad hills of Scotland and spend most of my time walking around the Cairngorms I can tell you that there is a healthy number of mountain hares. The population just may not be as abundant as it used to be which is part and parcel of conservation- controlling and managing populations. Moreover, don’t you think that reducing the hare population marginally may have helped the numbers of grouse??

          1. Dear Harry, you wrote

            “I don’t think you have quite grasped the meaning of conservation. In my opinion the definition is on the lines of preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment. I emphasise the importance of a natural environment in this definition. Quite rightly a ‘natural environment’ should encompass all living things on earth that are suited to a certain habitat. In this case you are arguing that the culling of mountain hares may lead to the eradication of the species in the Cairngorm and highland area as a result of a preference by individuals to increase grouse numbers. I would like to establish that in a ‘natural environment’ there should be an even distribution and number of all species to create a healthy eco-system.

            totally agree with what you wrote here Harry but you then go on about the need to control certain species for the sake of conservation, this is were you are wrong, your not controlling any species in the name of conservation your controlling them in order to maximise grouse numbers, every action has a reaction and by culling one species another species will benefit and another species wont, this is not conservation, you might think it is, you kill grouse and feel the need to justify yourself by claiming that there is a positive side of your actions
            the shooting industry pay good money to the GWCT to try and rewrite science, to try and discredit what has gone on for millennia in this country and still goes on across the globe, predator / prey relationships, you can believe what they preach but if you spend as much time as you say on the moors then you must have some doubts
            oh and no I don’t live in a city I live on the edge of the Lancashire moors and next to ancient woodland, there should be harriers, Goshawks , Merlins and Short eared Owls for me to enjoy but there isn’t. a few selfish people think that Red Grouse are more important

            regards Merlin

            1. I’m sorry let’s not get person here. I don’t shoot animals. I just feel an over population of species in a certain area cannot be good for a species due to too much competition. Glad to hear you are a country person… I feel city people don’t understand country ways

  10. This is yet another example of ‘no prey results in no predators mentality.

    Mangers of grouse moors killing everything based on folklore ,prejudice and zero research or science.

    SNH you actions are disgraceful and time will look back and judge you for failing to protect Scotlands heritage.

    1. As a different view point please read my response to Merlins comments above. I would also like to add that many estates including Allargue and Finzean have Golden Plover awards for the conservation of wildlife. These estates support the re-population of Black Grouse ( which are not shot), Oyser Catchers, Curlews, Golden Plovers, Woodcock, Capercallie, red squirrels, voles, otters, ptarmigan and many song birds.

          1. The Golden Plover award is given by organisations with an obvious interest in the shooting industry, so it is highly probable that the awards will be presented to estates that benefit shooting, and therefore have a resultant intolerance for predators. The eradication of many predator species to benefit a few other species should not be seen as a good example of conservation. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider it as conservation. Furthermore, the Golden Plover Award has only been awarded twice, in 2013 and 2014, with the inaugural winners being Edinglassie Estate, followed by the Finzean Estate last year. Your suggestion that “many estates including Allargue and Finzean have Golden Plover awards for the conservation of wildlife”, is misleading.

            However, you have managed to mention another estate, and its healthy raptor populations. So that’s one estate then, and a different one from the two you originally mentioned. However, I’m not familiar with the area, so in the interests of openness, could you please alert me to some documented evidence detailing the healthy populations of raptors in this area?

            1. Marco,
              Can I ask you a question? It may sound ridiculous but isn’t the supporting of any awards for conservation better than none? I thought that protecting birds such as waders was as important to saving birds of prey? There seems to be such a fixation on raptors and not on other smaller birds that need help. Capercaillie’s being one

              1. As I’ve stated, I don’t see this as conservation. In my opinion, the eradication of 20 or 30 species for the supposed benefit of 8 or 9, shouldn’t even be considered, never mind rewarded, especially when the majority of those species that “benefit” is only as a by-product for the favoured grouse or pheasant.

                This idea that waders and other smaller birds are in desperate need for protection, is absurd, and is the typical brainwashing, propagandist nonsense issued by those with an interest in the shooting industry. I honestly get sick of having to repeat this, but how did you think all of these species managed to co-exist long before the advent of “sport” shooting? If predators pose (or posed) such a problem to these smaller birds, why has no-one been able to discover evidence of mass extinctions, or any extinction whatsoever, as a result of raptor predation? Do you have any evidence to suggest that ONLY predation is causing declines in bird populations?

                As for the problems facing the Capercaillie, there are many, including habitat loss, habitat degradation, weather, climate change and disturbance all being cited as major issues, and as far as the adult birds are concerned, it has been suggested that fence collisions are the major cause of mortality.

                Trying to suggest that predation is the sole cause for population declines is plain wrong.

                1. Marco, I’m afraid to say that your post is just a rant and not an answer to my question. Not once did a state that raptors were the sole reason for the decline in birds. However, what I asked was that why isn’t there more consideration for non raptors. Raptors seem to capture the peoples imagination possibly because of their size. However, very little interest is given in supporting other species

                  1. And in which respect does it approach the “rant” status? As for your first question, I did answer it (more or less). You asked me if “but isn’t the supporting of any awards for conservation better than none”, and I clearly responded that I do not consider the eradication of up to 30 species for the supposed benefit of up to 10 species as conservation. However, if you have struggled to grasp the intention of my reply, I will simplify it. No, I don’t support these awards.

                    You may not have specifically mentioned that predators were the sole cause of declines, but if you are considering offering your support for shooting industry “conservation” awards, then I would be within my rights to form an opinion that you follow this belief.

                    As for your second question, well, I did answer this one as well. Your question was based on the assumption that waders and smaller birds are in need of protection, and I provided a reply stating that they don’t need protection, and that the problems facing the Capercaillie, along with a vast number of other species, are many.

                    As for your belief that “very little interest is given in supporting other species”, I am sure you will have been reading up on the many non-raptor conservation projects being carried out by the RSPB. In addition to the information that Jeff has kindly provided, the RSPB has carried out work on a vast number of species, looking at habitats, food availability, nesting habits and preferences, etc. Species such as Ring Ouzel, Wood Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Bearded Tit, Swift and Nightjar have all been looked at, but to gain a fuller picture of some of the RSPB’s work, have a look here at the single species surveys
                    or here for a broader range of ecological work on species and habitats

                    Of course, that’s just the work that the RSPB carry out at home. Their international work also encompasses a wide range of species and habitats. See here

                    In addition to the RSPB, there is also the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, carrying out hugely important work on wildfowl and wader species and habitats, and some incredible work in attempting to reverse the declines of some globally-endangered species.

                    Suggesting that raptors receive the majority of interest, is plain wrong.

  11. I am totally disgusted. There is NO excuse for killing OUR wildlife especially to allow a few rich, often drunk, morons to kill birds. The Conservation Trust should ask themselves what they are trying to conserve. Wildlife or idiots?

    1. Dear Sue,
      Don’t you think it is hard to take comments like this seriously when you use such stereotypical and derogatory terms towards other people? You seem to have such a biased view point with no room to consider other peoples points of view.

      1. “I feel city people don’t understand country ways”

        Harry, you provided the above statement. Surely that’s could also be deemed as a stereotypical and derogatory term?

          1. If the statement shows an element of disrespect, then it could be deemed as derogatory. You have categorised all city people as having no knowledge of countryside ways, and that is derogatory in my opinion. If I was to reverse the situation and state that “country people do not understand urban life”, then that would be a derogatory statement against those living outside urban conurbations.

  12. It needs legislation to make it an offence, with huge fines for ignoring it, but even then, they’ll probably find a way round it.

  13. What tremendous letters from Dr. Watson. I hope Raptor Persecution had his permission to publish them otherwise you may be getting a letter too! Terrific stuff there! Is there a reply from SNH to his second letter? I would love to read that.

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