Fight continues to protect iconic mountain hares – article from The Scotsman

An article written by James Silvey, Senior Species & Habitats Officer at RSPB Scotland, published by The Scotsman newspaper on 22nd March 2022.

Fight continues to protect iconic mountain hares

March 1, 2022 marked the first anniversary for protected status of one of Scotland’s most iconic mammals, the mountain hare. This protection was long overdue and a direct result of the unregulated killing that had been undertaken as routine management across many upland areas of Scotland for over 30 years.

The story of why mountain hares became a protected species starts with grouse and the business of driven grouse shooting which relies on large numbers of these birds to be shot at the end of the summer. The main techniques to achieve these large numbers are disease management, predator control and regular burning of vegetation to promote fresh heather growth. Like grouse, mountain hares feed on heather and have similar predators so conditions on grouse moors also benefited this species and as such many of their stronghold sites were often associated with grouse moors. That was until a change of management in the 1990s.

Through the late 1990s and 2000s tens of thousands of mountain hares were routinely shot on grouse moors across the species stronghold sites. This was in the misguided attempt of reducing tick numbers which could transmit an often-fatal disease to grouse chicks known as louping ill.

The scale of killing was alarming and, in an effort to control the culls, Scottish Government introduced a closed season in 2011 and called for voluntary restraint in 2014. Neither effort worked and pictures of culls and dumped dead hares continued to appear in the media. Estimates at the time gave figures of 26,000 hares killed annually. However, the actual figure was likely much higher.

Despite the concern, evidence of what effect such heavy persecution was having on mountain hare populations was in short supply until 2018, when two independent scientific papers were published that came to similar conclusions; mountain hares had declined, with the analyses from one paper showing that these declines had been catastrophic in areas that were predominantly managed for grouse.

This new evidence, coupled with an admittance from Scottish Government that mountain hares were in “unfavourable conservation status” led to a change in the law in 2019 – spearheaded by Green MSP Alison Johnstone – and protection for the species in 2020.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t finish here. Whilst mountain hares now are a protected species, NatureScot are still able to issue licences to individuals to kill mountain hares for specific reasons, such as the protection of young trees. In the past with species like beavers, we have seen how these licences can be used to kill significant numbers of animals. From 1st March 2021 when mountain hare protection came into effect to 28th February 2022, 51 licences for lethal control were approved by NatureScot with an estimated 3000 hares licenced to be shot.

Compared to the estimated 26,000 killed annually before protection, this may seem to be a significant improvement. However, it is important to know where these hares were killed, over what area, for what purpose and crucially if lethal control really was the only option as opposed to non-lethal measures such as fencing.

Species like mountain hare are protected for a reason, and it is vitally important that any licences that are issued are done so only as a last resort and with the highest safeguards in place to prevent any population decline both nationally and locally.

Having fought so long for protection of this upland species RSPB Scotland will continue to monitor the management of mountain hares closely and call for the increased use of non-lethal measures where available. In addition to this, complete transparency is required when it comes to all species licensing so that data on numbers of licences approved, numbers of animals killed and for what purpose are freely available and where necessary challenged.


Embittered speech by Alex Hogg, Chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) held its AGM online last Friday (4th March 2021).

The majority of the two and a half hours was taken up with a political hustings – more on that event later.

To kick off proceedings, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg delivered an opening speech, read deadpan from his laptop. It’s an interesting insight in to what, exactly, it is that the SGA is intending to protest about later this month, as so far it hasn’t been clear to many of us, including the Scottish Government (see here).

It turns out, judging from Alex’s embittered speech, that it’ll be a protest against progress and modernisation. From the restrictions imposed by drink driving limits, to no longer being allowed to slaughter mountain hares in their thousands with zero accountability, the resentment about being dragged in to the 21st century is clear. Personally I don’t think the SGA can legitimately argue that it doesn’t get a fair hearing – it gets just as much opportunity to be heard as everyone else and some of its members and supporters are anything but the so-called ‘quiet people’ described in the speech (e.g. see here and here). Sorry, Alex, it ‘ain’t the 1950s anymore, the world’s moved on massively and so must the SGA if it’s to survive.

Here is the transcript:

“Welcome everybody to our 2021 SGA AGM in our bothy. It’s fantastic to see everyone, albeit through the lens of a video camera.

Can I take a moment to thank the girls in the office, Carol and Sue, and the Committee for all the hard work and diligence which has gone on in this difficult Covid year.

On behalf of our protected wildlife, can I say a huge thanks to our keepers who carried on working throughout Covid saving countless numbers of endangered waders and other keystone species. As well as trying to make the most of an interrupted and difficult season. Even as we speak low ground keepers are still feeding out game and all the other declining wee birds. Whether they manage to get any shooting or not.

Members are also helping to control foxes and crows during the lambing time. This is a huge benefit for the farmers and crofters as well as ground-nesting birds. Many crops would never have gotten away if they’d not gained the protection by the keepers and shooters, keeping crows and pigeons at bay. Public land managers and RSPB on other hand were largely on furlough. Orkney being a case in point with stoat traps lying unattended for months. What an embarrassment given the millions of public cash doled out. Our work during lockdown was carried out with no public money. People were out, seven days a week, getting their hands dirty for Scotland.

The keepers’ skills when it comes to fire fighting are recognised as being up there with the best. The fire service has recognised these important facts and we hope to work with them on things like training days in the future. Again, all of this will be offered at no cost to the public purse.

We have managed more than a million deer in the last decade with reference to best practice and almost all going back in to the food chain. Again, at no cost to the public purse. Sustainable natural protein, low food miles, respect for management. Do we have to down tools and stop providing these services for free before people actually sit up and actually realise what they are getting and acknowledge the great work you, our members, do.

How many ghillies will run mink traps and keep the river banks free of invasive species? Or plant trees just for beavers just to chew them down. It shouldn’t have to be the case that you have to take something away before people realise why they get from gamekeepers, ghillies and deer managers but sadly decision makers in Edinburgh would rather listen to campaigners and then get out in the countryside and see the work first hand.

When the SGA invited MSPs out to see a local foot pack in operation to control foxes, only one MSP turned up willing to see how things actually work. Then a foxhunting bill was rushed through by Scottish Government. No wonder people want to take action. I will come on to how you can do that later.

Where is the old fashioned idea that you make a decision after seeing the situation for yourself, first hand? What about mountain hares? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that mountain hares will be extinct in the not-too-distant future. Protectionism will actually kill them. Their habitat will get wiped out for the ever-increasing tree planting targets, they will die of disease on our moors cos their numbers can’t be thinned out to preserve a healthy population.

The new law is a disaster and translocations from grouse moors, SGA’s idea, is probably the only chance for them now. The politicians who made the decision are about to find out the bitter and inconvenient truth about how few there actually are away from grouse moors. They didn’t listen but their decision will come back to haunt them.

Government interference generally in rural life has not helped sustain community. The drink driving limits. It’s great in the city, trains, buses and taxis everywhere. Try finding a bus or taxi in the rural areas where most of us live and work. This policy has seriously affected social cohesion in the countryside, along with rural pubs having to close.

Access without responsibility. How the hell were we ever actually going to work in the countryside. People and dogs popping up all over the place. I’m very sure that the police in this day and age wouldn’t allow this to happen near their firing range yet we’re expected to carry out our work with high velocity rifles, it is an accident waiting to happen.

When Holyrood first opened, I was a great supporter. This was a chance to influence decisions at a local level. It was a fantastic voice for the people in rural Scotland, but as has happened with the police force, everything, all the power has become centralised. Remember getting your firearms certificates from the police locally? The Scottish Government has removed power from the local rural communities faster than snow melting from a dyke. Holyrood is not too different from Westminster now in that it operates from the centre in Edinburgh.

We must continue to do what we do for the countryside. To manage best practice and to deliver economic and biodiversity benefits. Even if we have to do it despite the capital law makers putting barriers in the way. Perhaps with the economy shaken people may begin to wake up and realise which people are getting their hands dirty for Scotland and those who will barely get out of bed without a tick on a public grant application form.

I was reminded recently that there are some out there in the world who do appreciate our work and it was heart-warming to hear”.

[Ed: Alex spent the next 7 minutes slowly reading out a letter from a health professional called Ewan (or Euan) with links to an estate in Angus, who was basically blowing smoke up the SGA’s arse, questioning what governance is in place to ensure the RSPB meets its stated objectives, and asking why so much parliamentary time was given to the issue of grouse moor licensing. It’s someone else’s opinion so it’s excluded here to save time].

Back to Alex:

“Ewan’s words and his questions are relevant and they’re similar to what I hear amongst the members and others who work in traditional rural industries today. Our quiet people are finding their voice, we must speak often and clearer than ever.

On the subject of questions for MSPs we asked members to send us some questions that we could ask election candidates in our political hustings which we recorded last week. You can now watch the event here and I hope you enjoy it.

Following that we will move on to our annual accounts so members please stick around for the next part of the 2021 AGM and thanks very much everybody for your time today”.


UPDATE 12th March 2021: Political hustings: who’s promising what to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (here)

Animal protection charity reveals worst snaring incidents in UK in 2020

Press release from OneKind (5th March 2021)

New report from animal protection charity reveals some of the worst snaring incidents in the UK in 2020

Scotland’s leading animal campaigns charity, OneKind, has released a new report, SnareWatch Annual Report 2020: Case studies of snare use in the UK, which highlights some of the worst snaring, or suspected snaring, incidents in the UK during 2020.  

A snare is a thin loop of wire, anchored and positioned to catch an animal around the neck. Snares are, quite literally, Stone Age technology and have been used globally for centuries to catch a variety of species. In Scotland today they are mainly used to target foxes on or near grouse moors, due to the species’ perceived threat to the grouse. They may also be used to target rabbits and hares. They are required by law to be ‘free-running’ so that the wire relaxes when the animal stops struggling.  

[A snared mountain hare on a Scottish grouse moor, killed and left to rot. Photo by Ruth Tingay from a few years ago]

The report encompasses snaring incidents involving target species, such as foxes, and also non-target species including dogs, cats and farmed animals. Most of the animals that were found alive, but injured, required veterinary attention.  

OneKind Campaigner, Eve Massie, said: 

Our new report, SnareWatch Annual Report 2020: Case studies of snare use in the UKraises awareness of the suffering that wire snares inflict upon animals. Snares can cause the animals trapped in them considerable stress and pain, yet astonishingly, are still legal in the UK.  Our report highlights several cases of animals that were found alive in the snares and required veterinary attention. This includes a fox that had to be treated for the fly eggs and parasites on his body after he was trapped in a snare, suggesting he may have been there for an extended time.  

Wire snares are not only cruel but are also indiscriminate as to the species caught in them. Indeed, up to 70% of all animals caught in snares are non-target species. As evidenced in our report, dogs, cats, foxes, badgers and even lambs are caught in snares across the UK. In one particularly upsetting incident, a dog required 25 stitches for a hole in his chest that exposed muscle. The vet who treated him suspected that his injuries were consistent with being entangled in a snare. 

By highlighting snaring incidents in this new report, we aim to show how widespread snaring can be in the UK and just how much suffering these archaic traps can inflict upon animals“.

On OneKind’s snare reporting website,, Eve said: 

Since 2011 we have been appealing for reports about snares found by members of the public through our snare reporting tool website, So long as snares are legal in the UK, we believe it is imperative to gather information about the nature and extent of snaring“.  

On calling for a ban on snares, Eve continues: 

OneKind has long-campaigned for a complete ban on the sale, use and manufacture of snares in Scotland. Our Parliamentary petition to assess the welfare risks of wildlife ‘control’ in Scotland, including the use of snares, was closed by the Scottish Parliament. This was, in part, because the Scottish Government is due to review snaring this year. We hope this report will encourage the Scottish Government to reconsider the use of snares in Scotland. In 2017, NatureScot stopped issuing licenses for the snaring of mountain hares. Its time  snares are banned for all species of animal. Suffering is suffering, no matter what species of animal it is inflicted upon


National mountain hare day!

Press release from OneKind (1st March 2021)

Protections for mountain hares have come into force from today, in what campaigners are calling National Mountain Hare Day.

The new regulations mean that it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares without a licence. They were passed after pressure from Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone to accept the licensing as part of the new wildlife legislation.

[Photo by Steve Gardner]

Johnstone said: “Today is an important moment for all those who campaigned for years to end the indiscriminate mass slaughter of mountain hares on Scotland’s grouse moors. These new protections come as a direct result of my amendment to wildlife laws last year, which forced the Government to act after years of delay.

Overwhelming public support for action ensured that Parliament supported this change, and I would like to express my gratitude in particular to the tens of thousands of campaigners who backed my amendment and helped push it over the line.

Now that mountain hares are a protected species, the Scottish Government has a responsibility to protect them. We will be keeping a close eye on them and will challenge any move that suggests they are not fulfilling this duty.

Scotland is in a nature emergency, with one in nine species at threat. The progress we are seeing today is important but we need to do so much more. The Scottish Greens are committed to fighting for Scotland’s nature, ending the persecution of our wildlife and restoring Scotland’s unique and beautiful natural environment.”

Leading animal welfare charity, OneKind, has welcomed the introduction of legal protection.

Director Bob Elliot said: “We are delighted that the day has come when mountain hares have become a protected species and where the mass scale killings of this beautiful animal are put to an end.

We have campaigned for four years for an end to these culls and so today really does feel like a huge triumph. A triumph not just for ourselves, but also for our passionate supporters and all those who campaigned tirelessly for mountain hares.

There has been a great deal of support for making mountain hares a protected species and efforts from animal welfare organisations, such as OneKind, conservation organisations and passionate individuals made this happen.

In particular, Alison Johnstone MSP deserves special recognition for her commitment to her role as the Scottish Parliament’s hare champion.

We are very grateful that she lodged the amendment that is responsible for mountain hares’ new status as a protected species.”


Will the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors end on Monday?

It has been legal to kill mountain hares in Scotland for decades, although in more recent years concerns about the species’ conservation status led to the introduction of a closed hunting season as part of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, which became enacted on 1st March 2012 (see here).

Nine years later and after a long, hard-fought campaign by a number of organisations and individuals, backed by Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone, as of this Monday (1st March 2021) mountain hares in Scotland will have increased protection, meaning it will be illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares at any time unless a licence is obtained.

[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]

Mountain hares have been killed for a variety of reasons, including to protect forestry interests and for recreational ‘sport shooting’, but overwhelmingly they’ve been killed on driven grouse moors in a vain attempt to control the viral disease ‘Louping-ill’ in red grouse – I say vain attempt because scientists have concluded ‘there is no compelling evidence base to suggest culling mountain hares might increase red grouse densities’ (see here).

The scale of the mass slaughter on some driven grouse moors in recent years has been eye-watering (nearly 38,000 killed in one season – see here) and this was despite widespread calls for voluntary restraint from within the shooting industry itself (e.g. see here). The killing is believed to have increased as part of the intensification of driven grouse moor management in some regions (see here).

Hopefully, from Monday, we won’t ever see a return to that level of obscenity but the new protection does not mean that mountain hares can’t still be killed – it means the hare killers will need to have a licence and thus presumably evidential support to justify the licence being issued, which should mean that slaughtering thousands of hares to protect grouse stocks will not be permissible.

We don’t yet know the terms of the new licensing scheme but NatureScot (the licensing authority) has begun to consult and there’ll be a lot of organisations watching with close interest to scrutinise the final details. NatureScot can also expect a series of FoIs to scrutinise licence applications vs licences issued.

RSPB Scotland’s Senior Species and Habitats Officer James Silvey has written an excellent blog laying out what the RSPB expects to see in the new licensing regime – see here.

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.

SNP leadership faces grassroots rebellion at conference over watered down grouse shooting motion

The scandal that is driven grouse shooting continues to feature prominently in the Scottish media as pressure continues to mount on the Scottish Government to respond to the Werritty Review on grouse moor licensing, a report that was submitted to the Government almost a year to the day (18 November 2019).

Last week The National ran an article on the 25 regional SNP branches who had submitted a motion for debate at the national conference calling for an end to driven grouse shooting in Scotland (see here).

The motion was proposed by councillor Julie Bell of Kirriemuir and Dean (Angus) and seconded by Ruth Maguire MSP. The resulting personal abuse hurled at them on social media from those with a vested interest in maintaining grouse shooting won’t have gone unnoticed by Julie, Ruth or their party colleagues and probably beyond.

Meanwhile, the motion appears to have been watered down considerably, despite being ‘the most backed resolution this year’, and as a result, Ruth Maguire MSP has lodged an amendment. The National ran an article on this yesterday, as follows:

THE SNP leadership faces a grassroots rebellion at this year’s conference over plans to end grouse shooting in Scotland.

The prospect of a vote on the subject has upset the Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association, who warn that the party risk alienating the countryside.

An initial motion to conference calling for an end to “unsustainable practices on grouse moors including the snaring, trapping and killing of hundreds of thousands of animals, muirburn and mass outdoor medication” was popular with members, being the most backed resolution put forward.

However, it was missing from the conference agenda. Instead there was another resolution which called for Scottish Government to continue its work “on regulating sporting estates in order to protect our biodiversity, native species and peatlands.”

MSP Ruth Maguire said this didn’t go far enough. Backed by her Holyrood colleague Christine Graham and a number of branches, she’s now submitted an amendment which urges the party to back the licensing of all shooting estates, and “move away from driven grouse shooting towards more sustainable and diverse land uses”.

Maguire said: “The original motion submitted to conference appears to be the most backed resolution this year showing the strength of support within the party for tackling Scotland’s grouse moors.

“For the huge swathes of Scotland they use up, driven grouse moors are one of the most destructive land uses in Scotland for our wildlife and environment, offering little economic benefit compared to other land uses.

“As recent polling shows almost three quarters of Scots are against grouse shooting and the SNP membership want the chance to put the party on the forefront of public opinion. This amendment, like the original motion, seeks to end the unsustainable practices of grouse shooting and in line with land reform, make our land work better for our people, our wildlife and the environment.”

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “The SNP, down the years, has enjoyed strong levels of support within working gamekeepers, their families and extended groups in rural constituencies.

“These are ordinary, hard-working individuals and families who vote for people and parties they feel will represent the interests of their communities.

“Recent policy decisions have left them alienated. Land working people, just now, are angry.

“They feel the Scottish Government is no longer listening or supporting them, despite the many benefits their work brings to the Scottish countryside and economy.”


Funny, the so-called ‘strong levels of support’ for the SNP that I’ve seen from the SGA’s members and supporters over the last few years has consisted almost entirely of vile personal misogynistic abuse.

Here’s a short example targeting Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham in March 2018 after she spoke to campaigners outside Holyrood about the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors (thanks to the blog reader who’s been compiling this material):

Roseanna hasn’t been the only target – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has received ‘special attention’ as has Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon. And it’s not just female politicians in the SNP who have been at the receiving end of this disgraceful behaviour – politicians in the Scottish Greens and Labour have also been targeted, as have campaigners, bloggers, researchers, journalists, scientists, police officers, lawyers, raptor workers, tv presenters, bird ringers, satellite taggers, funders, charity workers, in fact anyone who dares even hint that driven grouse shooting is a Victorian throwback with huge environmental costs has been a victim of this abusive and targeted harassment.

There’ll be more on this subject shortly.

Chris Packham in conversation with Alison Johnstone MSP

Yesterday evening Chris Packham was in conversation with Alison Johnstone MSP of the Scottish Greens, talking about the future of driven grouse shooting in Scotland.

This took place as part of the joint e-action campaign by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action to encourage UK voters to contact their elected representatives principally about tackling the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors. Yesterday the total soared past 100,000 emails.

[Alison Johnstone MSP, photo via Scottish Greens]

This conversation between Chris and Alison is well worth a listen.

Here are some highlights:

Chris Packham:A 100,000 emails, Alison, what has this meant to elected representatives who’ve come in, opened their computer inbox and sat down and seen them?

Alison Johnstone:It’s left elected representatives like myself in no doubt whatsoever as to the strength of public feeling.

We know that people want action, they’re absolutely sick to the back teeth of hearing that another bird of prey has been persecuted. This afternoon I went in to my Parliamentary inbox and I would say every couple of minutes I’m receiving one of these emails.

In Parliament during the week, one of my colleagues said, ‘Oh, could you..’ (I would say not a Green colleague of course), one of my colleagues laughingly said, ‘Oh, could you not do anything to stop those emails coming in?’ And I said, ‘You know, I’d really like to claim credit for that fabulous campaign but that’s down to the RSPB, Wild Justice and Hen Harrier Action’. But there is no doubt at all the message is getting across loud and clear, so great work!

Incidentally, Alison’s colleague Mark Ruskell MSP tweeted this morning that he’d received ‘well over 500 emails’ from his own constituents on this topic:

Alison Johnstone: ‘I think the Scottish Government is beginning to understand now that this is actually a vote winner for them.

If they listened to what really concerns people in Scotland, the fact that they’ve received so many emails in recent days about the persecution of birds of prey, when you think about all the other challenges we’re currently facing with Covid 19 pandemic, with the potential of a looming no-deal Brexit, but people still want them to protect the environment, I think that says a lot‘.

The conversation, which also included issues such as the Werritty Review and Alison’s recent success at securing protection for mountain hares (here) but the Scottish Government’s subsequent ‘dragging of feet’ to enact it (here) can be watched in full below (if you can’t access it go to Chris’s social media pages to find the recording):

The e-action currently stands at over 117,000. It closes on tomorrow (Monday 31st Aug) at midnight. As Alison and other politicians have said, every single email counts so please consider joining in if you haven’t already – CLICK HERE.

Thank you

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?

Unconfirmed reports of mountain hare culls on several Scottish grouse moors

The season for killing mountain hares in Scotland opened on Saturday (1st August) despite a recent Parliamentary vote to provide more protection for this species.

In this particular case, greater protection (i.e. those who want to kill mountain hares will need to apply for a licence) will not be available until the Scottish Government has undertaken a consultation to consider the terms and conditions of any such licencing scheme.

Meanwhile, while everyone waits for the Scottish Government to conduct that consultation, the shooting season has opened and the Government has ignored campaigners’ pleas to offer interim protection to those mountain hares.

Instead, the Environment Cabinet Secretary has, with a straight face, called on the grouse-shooting industry to practice ‘voluntary restraint’ (see here).

So it came as no surprise to see a number of (as yet unconfirmed) reports on Twitter yesterday that mountain hare culling had begun, apparently on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths and a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

Under the current legislation, these estates are entitled to kill as many mountain hares as they like, without needing permission or a licence, and there is no obligation for them to record or report the number of hares killed.

Nor is there any obligation to report what they do with those shot hares. Some will end up on sale for human consumption (complete with embedded toxic poisonous lead shot, yum yum), others will simply be discarded, and some will be used to bait traps and stink pits to lure other wildlife to a gruesome death.

[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]

UPDATE August 2020: Neither of these unconfirmed reports have been substantiated and there is no evidence that mountain hares were being culled in the Monadhliaths or the Angus Glens at the beginning of August 2020.