Scottish parliamentary committee considers petition calling for mountain hare protection

Earlier this month Harry Huyton (on behalf of OneKind) presented evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in support of a petition calling for greater protection for mountain hares.

This petition, signed by over 11,000 people, specifically calls for:

The Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce greater protection for mountain hares on both animal welfare and conservation grounds, which may include: introducing a three-year moratorium on all mountain hare killing, permitting culls and driven hunts only under licence, and ending all culling and driven hunting of mountain hares within Scotland’s National Parks using a Nature Conservation Order‘.

The full transcript of proceedings can be read here (starts at page 38):

Transcript Public Petitions Committee_14Sept2017

Photo of culled mountain hares being transported on a grouse moor on Farr Estate in February 2017 (photo by Pete Walkden)

It was an interesting discussion and Harry made many good suggestions about how the currently unregulated mass culling of mountain hares on grouse moors could be better regulated, including a fascinating analogy with seal culling. He said:

We have tried to put forward a number of approaches. The other possibility would be a simple extension of the licensing regime. Given that the current regime applies five months of the year, why not just extend it to apply the whole year round? If we ran it for a few years, it would not only result in fewer mountain hares being killed but provide quite essential data on the level to which the species is being controlled.

I point the committee to a similar arrangement that was introduced five years ago for seal killing in Scotland. In that example, the move from unregulated to licensed activity not only resulted in a big reduction in the number of seals killed but brought transparency to the sector. Every three months, SNH publishes the latest data on the number of licences that have been issued and the number of seals that have been killed under licence, and that is essential from a conservation and, indeed, a welfare perspective“.

The Petitions Committee agreed to seek written evidence from several named stakeholders: SNH, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Wildlife Trust, James Hutton Institute and GWCT.

As Harry noted in his blog about this evidence session, the responses from some of these organisations is quite predictable – they will not support any change to the status quo (e.g. see responses given back in 2015 when ten conservation organisations called on the Scottish Government to introduce an immediate three-year ban – see here – an action that the Scottish Government ignored).

With that in mind, Harry urges those ten conservation organisations (National Trust for Scotland, John Muir Trust, RSPB Scotland, RSZZ, Highland Foundation for Wildlife, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Raptor Study Group, The Cairngorms Campaign, the Mammal Society and the Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group) to update and republish their earlier joint statement so the Petitions Committee are provided with a more balanced view.

We strongly urge those ten groups to act. Given the comments made by some members of the Petitions Committee about mountain hares (as part of a discussion about Les Wallace’s petition calling for a study on the economic impact of driven grouse shooting), we think the Petitions Committee is quite confused about mountain hare culling.

For example, during the discussion on Les’s petition (starts on page six of this transcript), Petitions Committee Convenor Johann Lamont (Lab) said:

It was interesting to hear last week that the mountain hare is thriving because of grouse“.

Committee member Brian Whittle (Con) said:

Also, having subsequently had a wee look at it, I have found that other environmental issues are driving down the mountain hare population. The planting of spruce and conifers is driving the ferret, weasel and fox populations, which is decimating the hares. There is quite a tension“.

Hmm. Would love to see the scientific paper that demonstrates wild ferrets are decimating mountain hares!

Hopefully the ten conservation organisations can provide the Committee with a more scientifically accurate account of what is happening to mountain hares on driven grouse moors, such as this account by Dr Adam Watson, based on decades of scientific research.

13 thoughts on “Scottish parliamentary committee considers petition calling for mountain hare protection”

  1. Hopeful to see an end to yet another shameful and poor ‘land management’ practice which culls yet another grouse moor ‘pest.’ Good effort and well done to all.

  2. Why should we compromise over the persecution of Mountain Hares? The problem with compromised legislation is that the hare will continue to be persecuted unnecessarily; also if successful, even as a transitional measure, it would act as a psychological barrier against future full protection being afforded. Mountain Hares simply deserve to be left unmolested as a natural element of the ecosystem, thriving themselves and providing an abundant prey supply for predators like Golden Eagles. There is no need for man to intervene in this natural process, and any attempt to justify culling of hares by alleging they are harmful is both disingenuous and contrived. Full protection is what we should be demanding, for ethical reasons and upon scientific evidence.

  3. Yes I was quite shocked listening to some of the comments re mountain hares during the discussion about an economic study of DGS – wonder who’s been feeding that guff to them? According to Onekind’s analysis as much as 19% of Scotland is covered by grouse moors. Even half, a quarter, or a tenth of that would be a phenomenal amount for any country for what’s only a bloody hobby, for a country as small as Scotland it’s shocking. It’s really poor that our elected representatives have such low level of knowledge about something that is a significant (in a bad way) part of our country by any yardstick. The field sport mouth pieces are right about many people not having a grasp of rural issues – but they profit from it. Well done Harry and Onekind.

    1. I agree Les, but it must be difficult for a non-expert to distinguish between opposing ‘facts’ being forwarded by so-called experts from both sides. The fundamental crucial knowledge is who are the real experts. Some from the shooting fraternity are highly competent liars.

  4. Obviously best of luck with the petition . It was interesting to read the later observation however re. Lamont and the bloke from the nasty parties input , I had to replay it twice to make sure I had heard correctly .Who chooses these people to sit on these committees they are totally clueless, the whole process smacks of “jobs for the boys” . Surely this system is flawed ,it is a farce , it all sounds very jolly and democratic, open debate and all that ,but when committee members are allowed to make ludicrous statements that are taken as facts and nobody even challenges them, then surely this undermines the whole process. In all my business meetings I never once thought of wandering out to the street to ask the nearest passer by to please come in and chair the process. I know someone will say that this is the way Parliament works, its always done this way , but that does not get away from the fact that it is very wrong.

    1. We’d have to disagree with you about the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee. In our view, and especially in comparison to the Westminster version, it is a well-organised, open, respectful and fair process.

      We’d agree with you about the ludicrous comments made about mountain hares by the Convenor and one of the members. However, those comments weren’t challenged because they weren’t made during an evidence session with a witness there to challenge them.

      Presumably that opportunity will come later, once the Petitions Committee has received written evidence from stakeholders, and OneKind is given the opportunity to respond. That would be an appropriate time to challenge what has been said.

  5. Thanks for the explanation but it does not change my view that the accepted PROCESS should change. I know it won’t especially if we don’t question it , why do we ape the Westminster model when we are so much better
    than that?

  6. I don’t think a seal killing style licence would be of any more use in this situation than it is in regulating the killing of seals. Fish farmers, salmon netters and river boards apply for and usually get a license giving them a maximum number of seals they can shoot then every quarter they e-mail in a form to tell the Scottish Government how many seals they have shot which is always a lot less than the number of seals they have permission to shoot. The Scottish Government then publishes those figures on a nice official looking chart and pats itself on the back for reducing the number of seals killed. They might as well be giving licences to gnomes to allow them to shoot flying pigs.

    If permission is to be given for mass culling of mountain hares then the Government should initiate an independent study to see if culling hares reduces the impact of ticks on grouse. They may well find that without hares as hosts the ticks have to turn to grouse for sustenance and culling hares is having a negative effect on grouse numbers. Even if they do find that culling hares does increase even further the number of grouse available for the guns the Government should be consulting the public on whether or not they find this a justifiable reason for the mass slaughter of mountain hares.

    1. Good points John, but I’d rather see the public being consulted over whether grouse shooting itself is an acceptable major land use on the heather moors of Scotland (and the UK of course). In this case and many others I feel that concessionary compromise is only likely to prolong the systemic problem. For reasons which you have partly gone into, the culling of Mountain Hares is ecologically ridiculous, and nature should be left alone to maintain a sustainable and healthy population. Prior to any public vote, it would have to be ensured that full information was provided, and the usual lies used by the shooting lobby were thoroughly exposed. I suspect that even now such a referendum would produce similar results as against fox hunting. I believe it is simply unacceptable for a supposedly caring society to permit damaging intervention in habitat management and species’ natural populations, to support unhealthily high numbers of grouse to shoot, a playground for the rich in effect, and unsustainable. The only future for Mountain Hares, Hen Harriers and all the other ‘missing’ wildlife is to bring an end to grouse shooting and its attendant environmental damage. It would be ideal eventually, although perhaps a virtually impossible task at present, to convince society that recreational killing or hunting of wildlife should be consigned to history.

  7. Thanks to Raptor Persecution for this write up, and for supporting my call to the conservation organisations to re-issue their opposition to culling, and indeed to expand it so that it includes hunting. This is essential as the end result is the same and otherwise culls would simply be carried out under the guise of hunts.

    John R – Totally agree with your concerns about seal licensing. We put it forward as an interim measure that could be introduced quickly by the CabSec using existing powers. I hope that the inquiry will consider and propose stronger, permanent protection for mountain hares. Having said that, we need to be aware that ScotGov is only against large-scale culls on grouse moors and insist that certain culls are justified. I haven’t seen an expansion as to what they consider to be jusified – forestry protection I guess, but maybe more…

    1. Thanks for clarifying that Harry and thanks to you and your team at OneKind for bringing the mountain hare slaughter into the public domain. Sadly the Government we have at present is so supportive of those who are over-exploiting our environment and decimating our wildlife that we have to be careful not to give them an excuse to put in lax temporary measures which will still be in place decades from now. Factory fish farmers, industrial trawlers, fox hunters and owners of “sporting” estates have never had it so good. It doesn’t help that SNH and FCS seem very keen on employing cullege graduates – people taught to cull anything that doesn’t fit neatly into their balance sheets. Let’s hope that is changing and some of our elected politicians at Holyrood start to realise the natural environment and diverse native wildlife of Scotland are assets to be protected and enjoyed by many instead of “managed” and culled for the benefit of a few who think Victoria still resides at Balmoral. I too would like to see driven grouse shooting banned for the cruelty it causes to the target species and the many other species persecuted on the quiet to maximise the chances of some of those tonnes of lead shot hitting something before polluting the environment.

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