‘Sustainable’ mountain hare culls – where’s the evidence?

Hares_Lecht_25Feb2016 (2) - CopyTwo staff members from Scottish Land & Estates, the landowners’ lobby group, have been desperately trying to defend the indefensible mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors.

Tim (Kim) Baynes of SLE’s Scottish Moorland Group wrote a lame article on the subject a couple of weeks ago (we blogged about it here) where he claimed mountain hare slaughtering was done “in accordance with best practice” and that these culls are “informed and balanced” and that they didn’t take place every year. He was also quoted extensively in an article in Scottish Farmer (here), where he stated that ‘voluntary restraint was exercised’ and claimed that mountain hares were culled because “hares can affect fragile habitats through grazing pressure, can spread sheep tick which also affects red grouse, and can cause the failure of tree-planting schemes“.

A similar article was published in the Sunday Herald last week (here), penned by SLE’s CEO Doug McAdam. (For those affected by the Herald’s paywall, the article is reproduced here and here). McAdam recites the exact same reasons for mountain hare culling: “hares can affect fragile habitats through grazing pressure, can spread sheep tick which also affects red grouse, and can cause the failure of tree-planting schemes“. He also states that mountain hare culls are “properly organised and humane” and also says culls don’t take place every year. He then tries to nonsensically suggest that mountain hare culling is no different to deer culling, but ‘forgets’ to mention that deer no longer have any natural predators to keep their populations in check, whereas mountain hares do, or at least they would do if some of those predators (notably golden eagles) weren’t illegally shot, trapped or poisoned on grouse moors.

Let’s just have a look at those excuses for the mass slaughtering of mountain hares.

Hares can affect fragile habitats through grazing pressure“. They probably can, although if their natural predators weren’t being exterminated this would lessen any pressure. And would those be the same fragile habitats that are routinely burned with increasing frequency and intensity as part of grouse moor ‘management’, causing industrial-scale environmental damage (e.g. see here and here)?

Mountain hares can cause the failure of tree-planting schemes“. They probably can, but how many tree-planting schemes are taking place on driven grouse moors? According to McAdam, hare culling takes place “to conserve the open heather habitat“. So which is it? It can’t be both.

Mountain hares can spread sheep tick which also affects red grouse“. Ah, and there it is! What this all comes down to – mountain hares are inconvenient to grouse moor managers whose sole interest is to produce an absurdly excessive population of red grouse so they can be shot for fun.

Both Baynes and McAdam claim that hare culling doesn’t take place every year and when it does that it’s proportionate, “typically reduce the population by 10-20% maximum“.

hares_AngusGlens_Feb2015_113 hares killed driven shootingCompare that claim with the opinion of leading upland ecologist Dr Adam Watson, who wrote in his 2013 book Mammals in north-east Highlands:

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.

If Baynes and McAdam are to be believed, then their claims ought to be backed up by scientific evidence. Just taking their word for it doesn’t cut it. So, let’s take several grouse moor estates from within the Cairngorms National Park (named by Dr Watson as allegedly involved in unsustainable mass hare slaughtering, some since the 1980s) and ask Baynes & McAdam to provide supporting evidence that Dr Watson is mistaken.

For the following estates within the CNP (Glenlochy Moor, Glenlivet [Crown estate], North Glenbuchat, Allargue, Delnadamph, Invercauld, Candacraig), can Baynes and McAdam provide the following information from the past ten years:

  1. In what years did mountain hare culling take place?
  2. How many hares were present on each estate before the cull in each year?
  3. What methods were used to assess population size before each cull?
  4. How many hares were culled on each estate in each year?
  5. How many hares were present after the cull on each estate in each year?
  6. What methods were used to assess population size after each cull?
  7. What acreage of grouse moor on each estate was under a tree-planting scheme in each year?

According to the Cairngorms National Park Authority, hare slaughtering within the National Park is “part of a planned annual management cull” (see here), in which case the above data should be easily at hand to share with the concerned general public.

And Tim and Doug, no fogging the figures like you did with your unsupported claims that grouse moors in the Angus Glens support 81 species of ‘breeding or feeding’ birds (see here).

We await with interest.

Meanwhile, the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting can be signed HERE

21 thoughts on “‘Sustainable’ mountain hare culls – where’s the evidence?”

  1. Excellent new blog with all the details of what is taking place in our uplands. I, like others will look forward to the answers to the questions being asked.

    Great stuff RPS, thank you for your hard work and detail of the problem that our open countryside faces

    1. I would only echo those sentiments. Brilliant and consistent critique.
      RPS is probably familiar with George Monbiots various critical comment on the same subject. May I recommend his book “Feral” to all those with an interest in moorland fauna and flaura, £6.50 or less through Amazon. A ” must read”, I suggest.

  2. Every other industry makes even minor decisions on the back of a mountain of paperwork, the Grouse Estates are learning why that is: It is so that when someone asks, and someone always asks eventually, to justify their decisions or to prove their suppositions they can produce the paperwork and the research to back it up. Careers have been broken by failure to produce the paperwork. I fail to see why the driven grouse industry should be any different to anyone else.

  3. It is telling that the people who dismiss the compelling evidence that the systematic killing of protected raptors is continuing are the same people who now expect us to accept their confident assertions about Mountain Hares without the barest fig leaf of evidence.

  4. McAdam told me in a tweet somewhere that each estate keeps it’s own figures ……. the figures are there – all I had to do was find them . As a person who has been trained to back up assumptions/theories with evidence the figures should be available to people like me who’ve been asking for them for months now ……….. They’re the ones who need to justify their actions – their lackies in the CA condescendingly throw names about – but not figures ……

  5. Aye, kept right beside the shredder no doubt.

    Thank you RPS, for you tireless work, I stumbled on this site whilst researching Scottish land reform and the subsidy culture, and am much better informed now. What is going on, truly is a national disgrace, and must be stopped.

  6. JW (@jw4926) Wrote

    “McAdam told me in a tweet somewhere that each estate keeps it’s own figures ……. the figures are there – all I had to do was find them”

    against feudalism wrote

    “Aye, kept right beside the shredder no doubt.”

    Both comments will be perfectly true, they will still keep the figures to feed their own ego’s, record bags and all that bullshit still has exists even on what they consider pest species.

    Last week the Cairngorms national park CEO, Grant Moir issued a statement after “Lad” a sat tagged Hen Harrier was found shot on a Grouse Moor in the “NATIONAL PARK”

    “Millions of people visit this incredible Park every year with 12 per cent of visitors coming here for wildlife watching earning millions for the local economy. 43 per cent of people in the Park are employed in tourism and every illegal raptor crime adversely affects this area and Scotland’s reputation. The National Park Authority will work with all our partners to try and ensure that raptor crime is a thing of the past and that populations and ranges recover in the Park.”

    Two weeks ago Hamish Trench, director of conservation and visitor experience issued a statement after public revulsion following the release of photos showing the results of a mass cull of Mountain Hares

    In this case we understand the hare cull was part of a planned annual management cull. We recognise the public concern about the scale of culls and this emphasises the need for good information on populations and restraint in line with SNH’s advice in the meantime. In particular we expect moorland managers to ensure any culls do not threaten the conservation status of mountain hares.”

    Simple question as it becoming unclear, who is pulling the strings in this national park, is it Grant, Hamish or as we all suspect Dumb and Dumber and as a sign off has anyone seen the Invisible woman in all of this?

  7. Slightly off topic but Onekind have produced an open letter to be sent to Scottish Gov highlighting the case of William Curr ,Glenogil ,asking for snares to be banned , worth supporting I would suggest.

    1. Certainly, Coogan – our group has done so too. Snaring is appalling -only a particularly cruel mind could have thought that device up.

      No replies from Aileen et al to our emails about the hares – so I have posted a copy to her.

      Maybe she’s very busy.

  8. From a 100-year-old book* on grouse shooting in Scotland: “Standardisation takes the place of empiricism on every leading moor, with the most satisfactory results …”. Loosely translated for the early C21st as: “Monkey-see-monkey-do is just fine; don’t expect grouse-moor management to be based on actual evidence …”.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

    * – Malcolm, G. & Maxwell, A. (1910). Grouse and Grouse Moors. A&C Black, London

  9. Interesting to read that Invermark no longer culls hares – or does Adam Watson think it never did? I remember massive culls there during my time working as a ghillie in the mid 80’s. There would be a “keepers’ day” when men from local estates would arrive early in the morning, form a line across the hill (the beat to the south of Loch Lee was a favourite starting point) and the day would be spent walking in a line and shooting hundreds of hares. Done in spring, the still white hares stood out against the heather and had little chance. The reason given was that the hares eat the tender heather shoots that the grouse need. Contrast that memory with another of standing with the pony by the Unich burn and watching an eagle take a hare on the slopes east of Muckle Cairn – the eagle landing on the hare in a tumble to wings as it struggled to avoid rolling down the hill.

  10. Lets not be fooled, the persons who claim these culls are both sustainable and necessary are not basing any of their claims on science or credible research methods.

    Evidence given during the trial involving the snaring of mountain hares at Lochindorb included;

    culls were necessary to protect hillwalkers from ticks
    culls were carried out annually based on how many hares were seen
    No records were kept detailing hares seen or hares killed
    snares are selective

    How did they ever know how many they could kill.
    Answer; they didnt.
    The intention was to irradicate mountain hares.


    These people are nothing more than “hill apes” plundering Scotland with impunity.

    Banning driven grouse shooting is the only way.

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