Greater protection for iconic Scottish mountain hares

Press release from Scottish Government (27th January 2021)

Greater protection for iconic Scottish mountain hares

New licensing regime to take effect from March

Mountain hares in Scotland are to be given greater protection under regulations introduced to the Scottish Parliament today.

From 1 March 2021, it will be illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares at any time unless a licence is obtained.

Previously a licence would be required during the closed season, this will now be the case throughout the whole year.

The new licensing arrangement will be overseen by NatureScot, with licences issued only under certain circumstances, such as concerns for public health or protection of crops and timber.

[These bloodied corpses were left to rot in a pile on a sporting estate in the Angus Glens. The mass culling of mountain hares on grouse moors will no longer be permitted from 1st March 2021. Photo by an RPUK contributor]

The changes are part of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 which will also see new licensing requirements for those breeding puppies, kittens or infant rabbits, as well as introducing ‘Lucy’s Law to end the third party selling of dogs and cats in Scotland under the age of six months.

Natural Environment Minister Ben Macpherson said:

“Protecting Scotland’s wild animals in their natural environment is a key priority for this Scottish Government. Mountain hares are an iconic Scottish species and it is right that we protect them.

“Through the Animals and Wildlife Act 2020, we are taking action to safeguard the welfare of animals in Scotland and preserve our precious natural heritage for future generations to come.”

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management said:

“Mountain hares – our only native hare – are an important and valued species in the Scottish hills. This increased protection will help ensure healthy populations of mountain hares can be found and enjoyed in the mountains, while giving some recourse when there is a need to prevent damage being caused to saplings or sensitive habitats. We are also working with several partner organisations to continue to improve our understanding of mountain hare populations across Scotland, along with other work to support their conservation status.”


Mountain hares are native to Scotland and are found in upland and mountainous regions. 

They are a quarry species that have long been shot for sport and are also legitimately controlled for other reasons, including to protect plants and crops.

Those found guilty of breaking the new laws could face a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.


A lot of people have campaigned for many years to bring in greater protection for mountain hares, particularly amidst the backdrop of obscene mass culls on grouse moors. It remains to be seen how effective this new licensing regime is (and be in no doubt there will be considerable scrutiny of this in the field and further campaigning if licensing is considered to be failing) but for now congratulations to RSPB Scotland, OneKind, Revive, LUSH, League Against Cruel Sports, RPUK, Scottish Raptor Study Group, Scottish Green Party and the supporters of all these groups who have forced this change in Government policy. Special thanks to Alison Johnstone MSP for all her work on this issue.

15 thoughts on “Greater protection for iconic Scottish mountain hares”

  1. Good! Not before time to protect our only Native hare. Let us hope the licences will be restrictive enough for landowners to protect their saplings by barrier methods.

    1. I would have thought (although admittedly with no evidence) that Mountain Hare is a fairly minor problem for saplings/regen/plantings. Certainly on Mull, anecdotally Red Deer (and Fallow), sheep and voles are cited as the major problems. Never heard anyone complain about Hares.

      1. And on the mainland do people really think that hares are more of a threat to natural regeneration of woodland and scrub than muirburn?!

      2. Hares can do a lot of damage to trees, as i have witnessed, in Denmark (at least locally) and rabbits are terrible at nibbling saplings on Mull (again probably only locally).
        I agree though that voles and deer are the main problem presumably because of their high numbers.
        Hares aren’t that common on Mull and rabbits are not so widespread preferring richer grazing.
        I still don’t think hares should be shot for any reason.
        P.S. I asked my forester friend who lives on Mull and she says yes hares are a problem.
        If gamekeepers kill every single predator (legally and illegally) then hares will increase and they will get a licence. Sorry i don’t trust SNH or what ever they call themselves nowadays, one bit.
        There is only solution. Ban driven grouse moors.

  2. It will be interesting how hard the law comes down on those that break the law. Culling has gone on for years and old habits die hard. Hopefully the first to break the law is used an example to send a clear message that it is now wrong, and we are moving forward with a greater appreciation of the wildlife around us.

  3. The hare culls on grouse moors I have found particularly difficult to emotionally process..Hare are one of the creatures that most particularly touch the sacred……….Good news. Congratulations to those that have made this a headline issue.

  4. Whilst this is welcome news, and a step in the right direction.
    Let’s hope the new licence which still permits the killing of these hares in certain circumstances is far more robust then the General Licences in England, which are very much abused.
    I suspect any loop holes in the legislation will be fully exploited by those with a mind to do so.
    I also think it is fair to say the wildlife criminals will still kill hares in those dark corners of the countryside where there are few witnesses to their crimes.
    Legislation hasn’t stopped the illegal killing of raptors, and neither will it stop the illegal killing of mountain hares.

    1. Unfortunately I must agree with everything you’ve written, John L. Between now and March 1st I expect there will be a killing spree, then surreptitious killings thereafter.

  5. Great news to hear that this species will be given the opportunity to continue their lives in the mountainous areas of Scotland.
    I just hope that any applications for a licence will be robustly scrutinised and not just dished out to anyone who requests them.

  6. With the illegal slaughtering of our precious raptors on or near grouse moors, I doubt, sadly, that this law will stop the illegal killings of mountain hare on, or near, grouse moors either.
    I do hope that I am proved wrong.
    But I suppose we should be grateful that there now is a law in place. And hopefully the first offenders will be used as an example to others when appropriately sentenced.

  7. This new law will end most of the illegal killing of mountain hares just as licencing stopped the illegal killing of beavers when they were given protection. Scot Gov issues a licence, the killing continues but hey presto it’s now all legal and above board.

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