Protection for mountain hares kicked well & truly back in to long grass

Protection for mountain hares, slaughtered in their thousands on Scottish grouse moors (an estimated 26,000 each year), looks to be a long way off.

This is despite scientific evidence revealing catastrophic declines, despite the species’ unfavourable conservation status and despite the Scottish Parliament voting in June for full protection under the proposed Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act.

The Scottish Government is first insisting on undertaking a consultation with stakeholders to work out the details of how a licensing scheme will work, and has ignored the pleas of conservationists to bring in interim protection for mountain hares now that the open season for killing them has begun again (see here, here, here, here).

Instead, to the utter astonishment of the conservation community, as the hare-killing season opened on 1st August Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham asked the grouse shooting community to conduct voluntary restraint (see here) – an utterly futile and indeed facile request to an industry that has, for decades, proven itself incapable of self restraint.

[Shot mountain hares strung up in a chilling larder, screen-grabbed from a controversial feature on Countryfile (2018) showing mountain hares being shot on a Scottish grouse moor]

Meanwhile, a number of politicians have been putting pressure on the Scottish Government to pull its finger out and bring in measures to prevent the inevitable hare-killing sprees on grouse moors across the country, but Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon is trotting out the usual vague and non-committal responses we’ve come to expect from this Government.

For example, here are some pertinent Parliamentary questions from Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens) and Christine Grahame (SNP) and the Environment Minister’s responses:

Question S5W-30665: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party. Date lodged 13/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to commence section 10F of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act.

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (30/7/20):

The Scottish Government will set out its timetable for commencing all sections of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, including Section 10F, in due course.

Question S5W-30899: Christine Grahame, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, Scottish National Party. Date lodged: 23/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of mountain hare culling restarting on 1 August 2020, when the licensing scheme in compliance with the Animal and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 will be enforceable. 

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (10/8/20):

I refer the member to the answer to question S5W-30665 on 30 July 2020. All answers to written parliamentary questions are available on the Parliament’s website, the search facility for which can be found at xxxxxxxx.

Question S5W-30664: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party. Date lodged 13/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it will put in place to prevent further mass culling of mountain hares when the mountain hare closed season ends on 1 August 2020.

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (10/8/20):

The Scottish Government has always been clear that any large-scale culling that threatens the conservation status of mountain hares is not acceptable. However, as I stated during the stage 3 debate in Parliament there are a number of issues that must be fully considered ahead of the introduction of a licensing regime. I am now giving careful thought as to how that regime will work and when the protection will come into force and I will be discussing that in detail with stakeholders over the coming months. We will be following the situation carefully for any indication of attempts to carry out excessive culls and will take steps to address this if necessary.

God this is tedious. ‘Over the coming months’ and ‘in due course’ and ‘we will take steps to address this if necessary’. These are holding statements designed to hide the fact that the issue is being kicked in to the long grass.

Do these phrases sound familiar? They should – these are the exact same lethargic, ambiguous phrases that have come to characterise the Scottish Government’s inaction over the ongoing and illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors.

So far this season there are no confirmed reports of mountain hares being culled on Scottish grouse moors (there were a couple of unconfirmed reports in early August but these proved to be unsubstantiated – see here). However, with the grouse-shooting season now open this isn’t the time when most hares are slaughtered. That bloodbath usually takes place in January and February, once the grouse-shooting season has ended, as depicted in this shocking video.

Can we expect to see more of the same this season?

50 thoughts on “Protection for mountain hares kicked well & truly back in to long grass”

  1. It looks increasingly obvious that the SNP are in the pockets of the landed gentry and their shooting interests. How else can their obfuscation be explained? Maybe Scottish Labour could step up to the plate and put some electoral pressure on this relationship between nationalism and historical land ownership? Or, is that too much to expect?

  2. Campaigning to have Blue Hares shot, will never succeed whilst the wildest and most extravagant claims are made. Without any evidence of any worth, to suggest that 26,000 hares have been killed is pure speculation – and if the claims could be supported with factual evidence, and then if the numbers are correct, there is clearly a surfeit of hares and with an insufficient food supply or a hard winter or worse still, a wet Spring, then they will die of a combination of starvation and disease, as they do when the numbers aren’t kept within bounds.
    Harvesting any form of wildlife is both ethical and correct.

    [Ed: Alec, these are Govt-sanctioned figures and evidence to dispute them has not been forthcoming]

    1. “Harvesting any form of wildlife is both ethical and correct”.

      We’re all used to the bullshit that wildlife abusers post here, but this one really takes the biscuit. How bloody stupid can you get?

    2. “Harvesting any form of wildlife is both ethical and correct.”

      Really? Is that what you are doing with all the raptors, then?

      1. Keith Dancey – of course I wasn’t suggesting that and puerile comments such as that do nothing to support those who protect our birds of prey.

          1. You want clear? No Problem – – it’s idiot comments such as yours which are aimed at others, which discredit any attempt at logic which you may make ……..
            Clea enough?

        1. “Support those who protect our birds of prey”……? Can you clarify that comment please its very ambiguous and unclear; who “protects our birds of prey” ?

          1. Peter Hack
            Respond and have those conservationists who have achieved and continue to achieve high levels of protection and promotion, and have them dragged down to the pointless and pathetic rantings from groups who wear masks and describe themselves as an army of activists?
            Was that a serious request?

            1. I see this ‘Alec’ is an apologist for ‘grouse moor management’ and its so-called ‘true conservationists’ who think that ‘Harvesting any form of wildlife is both ethical and correct’ – possibly because they enjoy killing?

              He also wrote: “Campaigning to have Blue Hares shot, will never succeed whilst the wildest and most extravagant claims are made.” proving his intelligence and grasp of language. He also apparently thinks that being able to kill 26,000 Mountain Hares ‘proves’ that there is a ‘surfeit’ of them – which would otherwise suffer starvation and disease.

              On the other hand, according to the FSA, eating too much lead-shot game damages the human brain.

    3. I think you have wandered into the wrong forum: the lies and disinformation forums are hosted by the BASC and the Countryside Alliance. You would probably be more at home there.

    4. “Harvesting any form of wildlife is both ethical and correct”- an expression which seems to be similar in the use of language to the expression “Ethnic cleansing” – words which translate as killing and slaughtering, and an expression which most moral and ethical people associate with abhorrent and criminal behaviour.

      Does “harvesting any form of wildlife”- include endangered species?
      If so, it is very difficult to see how this would be either ethical or correct?

      As the UK parliament have now recognised that animals are in fact sentient beings then there is nothing ethical in suggesting it is correct to “harvest” animals in a way one would harvest a crop such as wheat or potatoes.

      Hunting on the other hand might be ethical if it is used to humanely dispatch a wild animal which is suffering and in poor health, but as most mountain hares which are killed are healthy and surviving perfectly well in their environment – then this is not an ethical excuse to kill them.

      As no factual evidence has been provided to validate the claim that killing 26,000 is indicative of a surfeit of hares then this statement can be dismissed. In fact SNH in one of their reports state (Research Report No. 1022) – ” Caution is needed when interpreting indices of population abundance, as the link between the numbers of hares reported killed in the NGC and hares seen during the BBS, and the actual number of mountain hares is unknown.”

      I have also read that due to the routine slaughter of high number of mountain hares, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have advised the Scottish government that it may have to report to the European Commission that the population is in “unfavourable status”.

      If the hare population is is indeed in “unfavourable status” then there is nothing ethical or correct in killing them.

      So it would appear that the “known facts” actually support the proposed ban on culling hares. But of course those who engage in this slaughter will attempt to justify their position with wild and extravagant claims which they are are unable to back up with factual evidence.

      [Ed: The conservation status of the mountain hare was upgraded to ‘unfavourable’in August 2019: ]

  3. I will not support the SNP until they address the issues of culling our iconic species and protecting our birds of prey. Failing to implement laws passed in parliament is an insult to the democratic process.

  4. I suspect the comments re the elections next year are relevant as they ill not be wanting to upset any potential voters.

    This way, they can say it’s still under consideration

  5. I received their official reply this evening: mealy-mouthed and disingenuous. I have said it before and will say it again: the SNP are Tories with Scottish accents and a nationalist agenda. They are as in hock to the landed gentry as the Tories are in England.

  6. The SNP ranks have a high percentage of closet Tories in their ranks. Following independence all will be revealed when we revert to the usual left & right politics. I suspect rank and file supporters will be surprised just how many from their party form up on the right!
    Green is the safer option.

    1. ‘Green is the safer option.’

      The Greens nowadays are pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of the SNP, in so much as they support independence (which is all the SNP are concerned about) so the SNP are perfectly happy to see people support the Greens. It suits their purpose.

      1. The point is the Greens are sincere about protecting mountain hares, raptors and a whole lot more, whereas the SNP will promise anything to stay in Government but have no intention of delivering.
        If there were only a few more Green MSPs at the expense of SNP ones the Scottish Goverment would have to agree to more conservation policies to stay in power.

      2. Sensible people would say that the Holyrood list system gives minority parties like the Greens appropriate representation and real power in the collaborative government which it was designed to encourage. Meanwhile your own country has only a single Green in its parliament and is collapsing under a government run by Old Etonians elected by only 30 % of its electorate.

        1. My own country voted overwhelmingly to safe mountain hares, which my own (SNP) government immediately back tracked on.

            1. I think we are all agreed Westminster is dire especially under the Tories and especially when it comes to bird of prey persecution and nature conservancy in general. Despite 2 decades of Holyrood, including over 13 years under the SNP, bird of prey persecution continues unabated and with impunity.

              1. Those twenty years have been devoted to law and its enforcement in isolation. That has been the chosen route of both conservationists and all politicians. It has failed for reasons which are a matter of regular discussion here and which were always pretty likely to prevail given the detection and consequent deterrence problems. That is the responsibility of everyone, conservationists and all political parties, not just the SNP who have in fact been responsible for the bulk of new legislation. That is not to say that these measures are not in themselves essential.

                The impunity you refer to has always been there because the detection problem has always been there. I watched displayed many times 30 odd years ago. It did not arrive with the SNP. It is now much more visible because of the much greater scale of the of the industry and the much higher financial stakes. More importantly, it is encouraged and enabled by a wider environment of right wing impunity created by the political and financial backers of grouse shooting whose routine lying, corruption and cruelty have had far wider impacts than raptor persecution. None of that can be tackled by the SNP from Scotland in the UK. They laugh at the Scottish Government because they can.

                The way ahead is as described by Revive involving addressing the land ownership and land use issues which underlie persecution. That is not going to happen this side of independence which is not going to happen without the SNP and, whatever happens next, independence is not going to go away.

                1. There’s no deterrent because the SG has not legislated for any. That’s what governence is about. The SNP have produced no meaniful legislation to act as a deterrent despite having a overwhelming majority at Holyrood. They could have made video effidence lawful, they could have given the extra powers to the SSPCA. What did they do? Answer, provide temporary Special Constables for the CNP. What a joke. Why don’t they do something meaniful? Because they don’t want to upset their good land owning friends Recently they were out manoeuvred by the Greens in a Holyrood vote, who forced through protection on Mountain Hares, only for the SNP to immediately backtrack saying they need time to consult with the stake holders, ie their pals the landowners who they will bend over backwards for. There’s no difference between them and the Eton Tories at Westminster. Pathetic!

                  1. The SNP does not have a majority of any kind at Holyrood, never mind an “overwhelming” one. The fact that you mentioned that the Greens forced through the vote on Mountain Hare protection, provides the evidence to that point.

                    1. The point is with the Greens & Labour both very much on side to rid Scotland of these vile crimes against raptors the SNP could easily pass legislation. But the SNP are too cosy with the landowners to legislate.

                    2. Politicians – they are just tools in the hands of those who would use them, and to their own ends.

                      Better that the true conservationists and from BOTH sides of this ridiculous divide find common ground – and that being the welfare of our environment ———— better that we consider the well being of the balance of the food-chain, from the invertebrates and up to and including our carnivores, both four legged, two legged and avian ————

                      No – I KNOW that it will never happen – such a shame.

                    3. The Greens certainly want to see change, but I’m afraid that Labour are all talk and no action. Being in opposition, with virtually no chance of leading the Scottish Government for another 10-20 years, they can afford to make all the promises they want, because they know they will never be in a position to act.

                      Why didn’t Labour make any changes when they were in power at both Westminster and Holyrood? And why don’t they make any of these changes in Wales, where they do have the power at present?

                      It’s very similar to their “stance” on equal pay for women at Glasgow City Council, yet they actively fought against that very thing when they were in control of said council.

                  2. Governance is also about politics. Some in the SNP may be pals with landowners, but most are clearly not. If your sole explanation for the lack of progress is that the SNP is the landowner’s pal then you’d have to be missing a few things. I’d hazard a guess at what they may be but you’d likely decide they were pathetic.

  7. Humans are so bad for nature! Some are, anyway! They kill it, endlessly, just for fun! Even to extinction! This is not normal, destroying the environment. It is sadistic, insane!

  8. And of course there will be a delay as in May 3021 is the Elections for the Scottish Parliament so nothing will be done from now until after that Election, with Cunningham going someone else will be appointed so nothing for months will be done maybe sometime in November 2023 May see a statement saying exactly the same thing that we have previously !!!!!

  9. There appears to be a lot of anger aimed at the SNP/Scottish Government here, and it is fully justified, as they are simply dragging their heels on these issues.

    However, there is a problem, and it is a massive problem in Scotland, as to which other party can offer anything different. The Greens appear to be the only party pushing for real change in Scotland, but they are a very small party in relation to MSPs, and their efforts are minimal as a result. And despite the good work that they try and achieve, staunch unionists despise them, simply because they have supported the SNP on some issues.

    The Tories are certainly not going to make any changes for the better, and it could easily be argued that things would be much worse if they had any form of control in the Scottish Parliament. Anyone who has communicated with any Tory MSP on environmental matters, especially in relation to hunting and shooting, is testament to that.

    The LibDems are a fringe party, so there’s not much hope that they will ever be in a position to do anything in the years to come.

    That leaves us with Labour. The Labour Party had a massive opportunity to take some really positive action on these issues when they had control at both Westminster and Holyrood, but for some reason, they did virtually nothing to tackle these long-standing issues. And you just have to look at Wales (where they have control of Senedd Cymru), and you will realise that yet again, they have largely ignored the subject.

    So, exactly who do you vote for!?

    1. Expecting a minority movement by Animal Rights Activists to have any substantial influence upon any political party, when the presentation of their case is based much upon theory, belief and many would believe, falsified evidence, rather than clear and evidenced fact simply isn’t being realistic.

      If we consider how Jamie Oliver affected a change of diet in school meals and how he, just about single handily, achieved the banning of Bernard Matthews Turkey Twizzlers, he did so by providing the evidence that they were harmful to children. R-P UK on the other hand, produce the bodies of dead birds, claiming that poison is the reason for the death, whilst being either unable or unwilling to provide the clear and empirical evidence to support their claims, and they simply aren’t being taken seriously – which is understandable.

      When a Gamekeeper kills a bird of prey, he runs the risk of detection. If caught and prosecuted, he will almost certainly lose his job and as most ‘keepers live in tied accommodation, so his home too. Most ‘keepers who are employed today, tend to be quite young, it seems and most of them have families. The risks attached to such an act are or would be, for many of them, life changing, makes it highly unlikely that the imagined and claimed numbers, are involved.

      It would be ridiculous to claim that during any given year, no Gamekeeper has ever killed any bird of prey – it happens quite clearly, but to suggest that a parallel would be that every car driver is an alcoholic and commits a drink driving offence on a regular basis, is equally absurd.

      One very well known shoot owner in the South has clearly instructed his ‘keepers that rather than kill a bird of prey – then they simply rear another 500 pheasants to compensate for any losses. It’s a logic which appeals to most.

      The occurrences of birds of prey being targeted and killed are, in my honest belief, extremely rare and without supporting and unadulterated evidence to the contrary, then those in politics who, when asking for advice and guidance, are advised that in the event of very few prosecutions, then there is no justification for damaging a wildlife and rural management plan, which has formed and evolved, over the last 200 years – then more harm than good will be achieved.

      I’m offering what I believe to be a realistic stance – I am totally opposed to the killing of birds of prey and I’m also of the view that any case which has the support of clear and irrefutable evidence, should have the guilty party enjoy a prison sentence.

      1. “The occurrences of birds of prey being targeted and killed are, in my honest belief, extremely rare and without supporting and unadulterated evidence to the contrary…”

        Then you are either an under-informed fool or a liar.

        “I am totally opposed to the killing of birds of prey and I’m also of the view that any case which has the support of clear and irrefutable evidence, should have the guilty party enjoy a prison sentence.”

        I hear this from shooting enthusiasts all the time, because they know that prosecutions are difficult to achieve.

      2. Your anecdotes and your ‘honest belief’ are no match for the raptor population science which, over a thirty year period, has shown the relationship between the presence of grouse moors and raptor population problems at quite a fine level of detail. Your reliance also on the low number of prosecutions takes no account of the widely acknowledged difficulty of detecting wildlife crime on grouse moors. It is certainly not how the world outside shooting assesses the scale of the abuse.

        If you were genuinely interested in the truth you would have looked at the science which is perfectly understandable to the layman. Having compiled a few hundred histories of raptor breeding attempts myself I’d say the science pretty well matches my own personal experience so I personally doubt there is any discrepancy between it and the famous ‘practical man on the ground’ nonsense beloved of the game boys.

        And as for ‘politics’. Do you really think your own views are not political ? Maybe you think they are just the natural order of things, not to be challenged by sensible people.

  10. Considering the Sparrowhawk which has been highlighted by R-P UK, assuming that the early report is factual, it does sound as though the bird was going in to convulsions and whilst that would be the expected reaction to an ingestion of poison, there are other traumas which could just as easily be responsible.

    In my youth, I kept quite a few Sparrowhawks – I flew them and with every one, I lost them – but by the time that happened, they knew how to hunt and kill and the reality was that their first few months of life were protected – but that’s a by the by.

    As wild birds, it would be exceedingly rare for a Sparrowhawk to eat carrion – I am NOT saying never, I’m just saying that the bird hunts, kills and eats, what it’s caught. For a dead bird to be laced with poison and for a Sparrowhawk to feed on that dead bird which would, most probably be a couple of days old by the time that the hawk found it, would be so improbable as to be discountable.

    As with all these other reports which are claimed to produce evidence, that evidence has to be open to scrutiny and a nudge and a wink and a stroke of the nose and a ‘we know the facts’ – isn’t evidence.

    1. “As with all these other reports which are claimed to produce evidence, that evidence has to be open to scrutiny and a nudge and a wink and a stroke of the nose and a ‘we know the facts’ – isn’t evidence”

      So say the shooting industry, stroking their noses.

    2. Yet more opinion masquerading as fact, and desperate, crass attempts to downplay the issue from the latest self-appointed “authority” from the shooting shower.
      Why should we assume that any “bait” was dead? Lacing live pigeons with poison is a common tactic at Peregrine sites, and it’s entirely feasible that a Sparrowhawk could fall victim. Of course, the full facts are, as yet, unknown, and RPUK has accurately reported the issue with that in mind.

    3. “it would be exceedingly rare for a Sparrowhawk to eat carrion”

      But they do eat carrion when they can (see The Food of the Sparrowhawk – J H Owen, British Birds Vol XXIV:

      “B. Birds found dead and eaten by Sparrow-Hawks.

      Sparrow-Hawk, Sheld-Duck, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Scaup, Pigeons, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Oyster-Catcher, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Woodcock, Snipe, Moorhen, Coot, Partridge”

  11. Is it any wonder that so many people distrust politicians and feel totally alienated from the political democratic process?

    Many people in Scotland wanted a a ban on the culling of mountain hares before the new season started, they petitioned their MPs, a motion was passed, and the Scottish Parliament voted to ban the culling.
    A simple democratic process.

    The Scottish Government appear now to have ignored that vote, and instead dither and delay.
    There then follows a naive statement from Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham asking the grouse shooting community to conduct voluntary restraint.
    Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon deflects SMPs questions about the governments proposals and timetable.

    How is this democracy?

    It just further adds weight to the belief held by so many, that too many politicians are only in politics for what they can get for themselves.

    Perhaps Ms Sturgeon should be reminded of the inaction of her government, the next time she is criticising the politicians in Westminster on their failure to act on some matter or other??

    But there is also a test here for the landowners- they will be aware that through the democratic process the public want an end to the culling of mountain hares.
    If they go ahead this year with a cull, then they risk causing anger and further resentment in the public.
    This could well result in yet more bad press for the moorland owners and the grouse shooting industry.
    Which in turn will just add further pressure on politicians to actually bring in regulations and legislation on the management of grouse moors.
    Or do landowners think they are untouchable, and that the politicians will continually kick any attempts to control their activities into the long grass??

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. …unless of course you are part of the wildlife which risks losing its life whilst the ball is kicked around!

  12. “Or do landowners think they are untouchable, and that the politicians will continually kick any attempts to control their activities into the long grass??”…….
    …….based on past track record, I think most regular readers of this blog know the answer John.

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