Scottish Government fails to protect mountain hares as shooting season opens

Today marks the start of the open season for killing mountain hares in Scotland.

You may have thought that the Scottish Parliament recently voted to protect this species, bringing an end to the scenes of horrific mass slaughter on Scottish grouse moors and only allowing future killing to take place under licence in certain circumstances.

[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]

Well, there was a vote, under the proposed Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, and Parliament did agree to provide full protection for the mountain hare (see here) but the Scottish Government is first insisting on undertaking a consultation before enacting the new legislation. This blog (here) by RSPB Scotland’s James Silvey and Duncan Orr-Ewing provides an excellent summary of the situation.

Since that vote, campaign groups have been urging the Scottish Government to bring in emergency interim measures to protect mountain hares whilst the consultation takes place (e.g. see here, here) but all to no avail.

You’re not going to believe what the Scottish Government published yesterday. Or perhaps you will. At the end of the week when it’s been deluged with letters of public outrage over the illegal poisoning of a sea eagle that was found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (see here), the Scottish Government’s Environment team posted this on twitter:

Are they for real? A call for voluntary restraint? Are they having a laugh?

This is an industry whose failure to self-regulate is legendary. Some of its members continue to systematically kill birds of prey, despite it being illegal to do so for 66 years, they slaughter mountain hares by the thousands (an estimated 26,000 hares shot every year), and they even continued to set grouse moors alight during Covid19, despite calls to stop from their own industry leaders, which led to the Scottish Parliament enacting an emergency temporary ban (see here).

This is an industry out of control and with little to no regard for legislation. Why the bloody hell does the Scottish Government think the industry will comply with a plea for voluntary restraint now? Why would it, when it gets away with criminality time and time again? And asking now, when the corpse of that poisoned eagle is uppermost in everyone’s minds?

It’s back to that famous quote again:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results‘.

It’s become pretty clear that the grouse shooting industry aren’t the only ones out of control. The Scottish Government has been unable, no, make that unwilling, to take control of wildlife protection despite having the legislative power and a huge public mandate to do so.

UPDATE 5 August 2020: Unconfirmed reports of mountain hare culls on several Scottish grouse moors (here)

[Cartoon by Mr Carbo]

“It’s time Scotland took on landed interests over animal protections” says Alison Johnstone MSP

Last month the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly (see here) to provide full protected status for mountain hares, thus effectively ending the unregulated slaughter of ~26,000 hares on grouse moors every year.

However, hare-culling under licence will still be permitted under certain circumstances and the conflict over the protection of this species is far from over.

[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]

In preparation for a more detailed blog in the run up to the opening of the hare-killing season this Saturday (1st August), have a read of this opinion piece written last month by Alison Johnstone MSP, whose amendment to the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill led to the [as yet to be implemented] increased protection for mountain hares.

This article is reproduced from The National (26 June 2020).

It’s time Scotland took on landed interests over animal protections

by Alison Johnstone MSP

THE response to mountain hares finally becoming a protected species in Scotland has been nothing less than astonishing.

After MSPs backed my amendment, thanks and congratulations came flooding in from across Scotland and around the world for winning vital protection for this iconic native species.

In parts of the Highlands, mountain hare populations have crashed since the 1950s, with an average of 26,000 killed every year, largely for fun and as part of mass killing on grouse moors. Last year their conservation status was downgraded to “unfavourable”.

Protecting these animals is the least we should do as a progressive country that values our wildlife and countryside, yet there has also been an astonishing response to this move from landed vested interests and the grouse shooting lobby, who have reacted with fury.

Gamekeepers claimed the vote in Parliament was “undemocratic” and threatened to set up their own political party, while the countryside alliance called into question my integrity, presumably because their only alternative is to defend the indefensible.

Preventing the slaughter of native wildlife in decline is perhaps the most basic act of conservation. Even under the highest level of wildlife protection available in Scotland, land managers could still apply for a licence to kill hares as a last resort, so the scale of response from the grouse shooting lobby is very revealing. It shows this is a community which is not used to being beaten. It demonstrates the power and influence they are used to having.

In December, the two-year review of Scotland’s grouse moors led by Professor Alan Werritty was published, but it brought absolutely nothing new to the table. It couldn’t even define what a grouse moor is, even though they cover around a fifth of Scotland’s land mass.

Incredibly, the Scottish Government has yet to respond to this watered-down review, which perhaps shows how unwilling the SNP is to take on this powerful lobby.

Last week, however, Scottish Government ministers came under incredible pressure after a Scottish Greens petition in support of hare protection garnered more than 25,000 signatures in just a few days. It was clear that public opinion does not align with the interests of those who enjoy shooting grouse on an industrial scale.

Although Parliament voted for an end to indiscriminate killing of mountain hares, the fight is not yet over. Shooting clubs have ominously warned our celebrations will be “short-lived”, and August will see the start of hare-killing season.

The RSPB and others have expressed concerns that these enthusiasts will use any delay in implementing the new restrictions to kill as many mountain hares as possible. There are already signs on social media that they are mobilising to do this.

They know this would be met with outrage, but this is a sector which has shown little interest for public concerns. The number of birds of prey which vanish around grouse moors is testament to that, which no doubt contributes to the lobby’s claim that mountain hares “thrive” on grouse moors. It is a circle of killing dressed up as conservation.

The fact muirburn continued into the pandemic lockdown and in dangerously dry conditions, despite the warnings of the fire service and Parliament backing my colleague Andy Wightman’s temporary ban, is another example of this industry’s disregard for wider community concerns and democratic process.

In accepting my amendment during the debate, natural environment minister Mairi Gougeon suggested the Scottish Government might delay implementation of this vital protection for mountain hares.

LIKE many, I’m really worried that this delay will only encourage an unprecedented killing spree by those who want one last hurrah. The ban must come in by August 1 and the Scottish Government need to issue a warning to these powerful vested interests that they must control themselves. They can’t always have their own way.

Grouse moors are left deliberately barren as a plaything for the very few. It’s ridiculous that so much of Scotland is taken up with this this mindlessly cruel Victorian hobby, when that land is needed to restore forests and peatland to tackle the climate emergency. Changing its use would also provide thousands of rural jobs at a time when unemployment is rising at an alarming rate.

Although mountain hare protection is a vital first step in tackling the problem of grouse moors, when we look back at last week’s animal and wildlife bill, it’s clear there is a long way to go for our Parliament to truly take on the powerful lobbyists who defend them.

For example, once again the SNP joined forces with the Conservatives to protect the rights of the shooting lobby to dock the tails of puppies. This practice involves cutting or crushing muscle, nerves and bones, without anaesthetic, in puppies under five days old. If done badly, it can cause the dog chronic pain throughout its life. Animal welfare experts are clear that there is no scientific basis for tail docking and the British Veterinary Association agree the practice should be banned in all circumstances except for treating an injury.

Our proposals to further protect badgers and beavers were also rejected. It’s time for Scotland to take on the powerful landed interests that hold back progress, for which animal protection is the front line.


Scottish Parliament votes to protect mountain hares

HUGE congratulations to Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone this evening after her amendment calling for protected status to be given to mountain hares (and thus effectively ending the slaughter of 26,000 on grouse moors every year) was passed, 60 votes for, 19 against.

[Photo by Steve Gardner]

Full credit to Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon for supporting the amendment.

More on this when the official report is published, and more on the finer details of the Animals & Wildlife Bill.

A lot of people have put in a massive effort on this issue over the years. For now, though, lets raise a glass to the late Professor Adam Watson whose meticulous five-decade research on the mountain hare has provided the evidence which finally led to this tangible and hard-fought-for conservation win.


Report of the meeting of Parliament, 17 June 2020 here: Report of meeting of Parliament 17June2020

Scottish gamekeepers desperate to keep slaughtering mountain hares on grouse moors

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has come out all guns blazing to try and prevent the Scottish Parliament from voting to protect the mountain hare in tomorrow’s debate on Stage 3 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill.

Scottish gamekeepers are terrified that they’ll no longer be able to enjoy what everyone else sees as a grotesque bloodbath.

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg has penned a typically deluded letter to MSPs in which he claims to be ‘a representative of the people of all of Scotland‘ (eh?) and how stopping the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors ‘will affect human beings’ lives’ (er…) and ‘worsen the conservation status of the mountain hare‘. Really?

Oh, and further justification for the slaughter is the protection of walkers, ramblers and mountain bikers from the perils of Lyme disease:

Of course, it’s not the first time the SGA has been accused of making ‘misleading’ and ‘greatly exaggerated’ claims’ about mountain hares (see here and here).

Meanwhile back on planet humanity, support is growing for MSP Alison Johnstone’s amendment to increase protection for the mountain hare that would effectively end the mass killing on grouse moors (see here and here).

The RSPB has published a good blog in support (here), as has animal welfare charity OneKind (here), and the signatures on the Scottish Green’s petition calling for support has now passed 12,000 in just a few days. If you’d like to sign it, please visit HERE.

Please keep writing to your MSPs – we know that mail bags have been inundated on this topic and it’ll be of great interest to see who votes in support of this amendment in tomorrow’s debate.


YOUR vote to end mass slaughter of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors

As you know, Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone has recently lodged an amendment to the Animals & Wildlife Bill, which would make mountain hares a protected species, effectively ending the mass slaughter on grouse moors (see earlier blog here).

An estimated 26,000 mountain hares are killed on grouse moors every year. Here’s one of them, shot and left to rot on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Photo by OneKind:

Alison’s amendment is due to be debated and then voted upon by the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 17 June 2020.

There has been a LOT of activity on social media since the amendment was announced, with many constituents contacting their MSPs and asking for an indication of how they intend to vote on this issue.

As a further demonstration of public support for the amendment, the Scottish Greens have launched a public petition where YOU can have your say. It has gathered over 7,000 votes in the last two days. If you’d like to sign it, please click HERE

For those who want to learn more about the mass killing of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors, this 2017 report (here) provides a good introduction, as does this video:

Scottish Parliament to vote on banning mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors

Press release from the Scottish Greens (10 June 2020)

Parliament to vote on mountain hare mass killing ban

The controversial practice of mass killing of mountain hares may finally end thanks to a proposal from Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who has lodged an amendment to the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The amendment would make mountain hares a protected species, effectively ending recreational killing and mass killing on grouse moors.

[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]

The Lothians MSP has a proposed member’s bill to end the killing of the iconic animal but will seek to introduce the protections sooner in stage 3 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

Alison Johnstone said: “Mountain hares are iconic animals, native to the Highlands. Yet rather than being treasured they are barely protected by the Scottish Government, and persecution and mass killings are rife. This is our chance to end the killing and protect this species for future generations.

In 2019 the conservation status of the mountain hare was downgraded to ‘unfavourable’ after new data published by the EU revealed populations have experienced a major decline [see here]. This followed shocking evidence of large-scale killing on shooting estates [here] apparently to increase the numbers of grouse available.

Mountain hares are routinely being killed in huge numbers on grouse moors in particular, with an average of 26,000 killed every year. Efforts to get shooting estate managers to practice voluntary restraint has failed.

I hope that the SNP and other parties will ignore special pleading from the shooting lobby and do the right thing next week. Either this amendment passes and mountain hares are protected, or Parliament turns a blind eye to the continued slaughter of a native species


Stage 3 of the Animals & Wildlife Bill will take place next Wednesday and MSPs will vote on Alison Johnstone’s amendment to make the mountain hare a protected species.

If you’d like to encourage your MSP to support this amendment, please contact them now. If you’re not sure who your MSP is, you can find out by typing in your postcode here.

Scottish Land & Estates admits it needs help to interpret scientific data

In response to this morning’s news of the massive decline in mountain hares on some grouse moors in NE Scotland, the grouse shooting industry has treated us all to its usual display of outright denial and utter contempt in response to any scientific research that undermines its mantra that grouse shooting is environmentally sustainable and doesn’t need any kind of regulating.

Here’s the full response of the Scottish Moorland Group (part of the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates):

And here’s the full response from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association:

Both statements are pitiful in their arguments: ‘We didn’t see him’, ‘He never asked us for our data’ and they confuse rigorously-collected scientific data with vested interest opinion, as seems to be the norm these days. On social media several gamekeepers have chosen to make personal attacks on the integrity of the study’s authors, Dr Adam Watson and Professor Jeremy Wilson, both of whom are highly respected experts within their fields. Questioning the honesty of an 88 year old man, just because you disagree with his research findings, is not a good look.

Neither of these two organisations make any attempt to critique the study’s actual scientific methods, although both have disputed the scientific findings and both have posted a copy of a graph from the GWCT, purporting to show ‘no discernible trend’ in the mountain hare population. They’ve probably been encouraged to cite this graph as ‘evidence’ to support this claim because that’s exactly what the GWCT has been doing all day, too:

What none of them seem to acknowledge (or even understand?) is that this GWCT graph bears no relevance whatsoever to the findings of Watson & Wilson that the mountain hare has suffered a catastrophic decline on some grouse moors in NE Scotland over a seven-decade-long study.

This GWCT graph shows data collected as part of the National Gamebag Census as an indication of the number of mountain hares that have been bagged (killed) since the 1950s. It is NOT a graph showing a population census of mountain hares over this period. All it shows us is that gamekeepers have been killing mountain hares at a fairly consistent rate over a long period of time (despite the so-called ‘voluntary restraint’ introduced a few years ago!), irrespective of the species’ declining population status. Dr Hugh Webster has written an excellent blog explaining this (see here).

We might have expected better from the GWCT, although let’s not forget this is the organisation that devised the Strathbraan raven cull ‘study’, recently slammed by scientific experts as being “completely inadequate“, “seriously flawed” and “will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence“.

We don’t, however, expect any better from the Scottish Moorland Group (or SLE) or the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, as neither are recognised for their glittering academic prowess. Although, the SGA statement does include the sentence, “It will be helpful to scrutinise the study’s methods and consistency given such a discrepancy with the current reality“. Perhaps they’ll ask their mate’s son, that HMRC tax officer (BSc Physics), to critique the authors’ critical thinking and scientific methods. We’ll look forward to that.

But things might be about to change at Scottish Land & Estates – they’re advertising for an ‘Environment Assistant’ with the specific role of ‘developing the organisation’s ability to understand, analyse, interpret and sometimes to challenge, a wide range of scientific reports and data on environmental issues‘:

Read the full job advert here: SLE Environment Assistant job description_Aug2018

God knows SLE needs some help in this area but looking at the job spec, desired experience and salary, SLE isn’t expecting to recruit anyone with much ability. Not that they’ll need much if all they have to do is explain to the Scottish Moorland Director that if the Scottish hen harrier population has suffered a 27% decline over a 12 year period that doesn’t mean the population has “remained static“.

Meanwhile, SNH has responded to the Watson & Wilson mountain hare decline paper with this:

Obviously having learned a lesson from its approval of the “completely inadequate” and “seriously flawed” Strathbraan raven cull licence, SNH is no longer willing to rely upon its own scientific staff and is quite rightly seeking the input of its Scientific Advisory Committee on this important issue.

It’ll be very interesting to see whether SNH is still willing to claim the mountain hare is in ‘favourable conservation status’ (as it did on very shaky evidence last year) in light of today’s publication. If it isn’t in favourable conservation status (and we don’t see how it possibly can be), that should be the green light for the Environment Secretary to extend the closed season year-round, meaning no more mountain hare massacres unless under a specific licence from SNH.

New study reveals shocking decline of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors

[Photo shows shot mountain hares, dumped and left to rot on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Photo by OneKind]

Press release from RSPB Scotland (14 August 2018):


New study shows mammals at less than one per cent of original levels

Mountain hare numbers on moorlands in the eastern Highlands have declined to less than one per cent of their initial levels, according to a newly published long-term scientific study.

Counts of mountain hares from six decades of consistent spring counts on moorland managed for red grouse shooting and on neighbouring mountain land were analysed in the research by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the RSPB.

From 1954 to 1999 the mountain hare population on moorland sites decreased by nearly 5% every year. This long-term moorland decline is likely to be due to land use changes such as the loss of grouse moors to conifer forests, and is reflective of wider population declines that mountain hares are facing across their range.

However, from 1999 to 2017 the scale of the moorland declines increased dramatically to over 30% every year, leading to counts in 2017 of less than one per cent of original levels in 1954.

[Graphs from the study give a vivid illustration of the dramatic decline of mountain hares on the study’s grouse moors from 1999 onwards]

The dominant land use in these sites was intensive grouse moor management.  Here, the unregulated practice of hare culling as a form of disease control, ostensibly to benefit red grouse, has become part of the management of many estates since the 1990s, despite the absence of evidence that it has any beneficial impact on total numbers of grouse shot.

On higher, alpine sites numbers of mountain hares fluctuated greatly, but increased overall until 2007, and then declined, although not to the unprecedented lows seen on moorland sites.

The Mountain hare is the UK’s only native hare and was listed as Near Threatened in a recent review by the Mammal Society indicating that the species is of conservation concern in the UK.

[Photo of a blood-soaked mountain hare dumped on Glenogil Estate, Angus Glens. Photo by OneKind]

Dr Adam Watson, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who was lead author of the work, comments:  “Having reached the age of 88 I am both delighted and relieved to see this paper published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.  Having counted mountain hares across the moors and high tops of the eastern Highlands since 1943, I find the decline in numbers of these beautiful animals both compelling and of great concern.  We need the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage to take action to help these iconic mammals of the hill – I hope they will listen to the voice of scientific research

Professor Jeremy Wilson, RSPB’s Head of Conservation Science in Scotland who assisted in analysis of the data, said: “It has been an honour to support Dr Watson in the analysis of his extraordinary long-term data set.  These data reveal severe recent declines on grouse moors that are strongly correlated with the start of mountain hare culls for which there is no clear scientific justification.  Urgent action is needed if the future conservation status of mountain hares is to be secure.”

Duncan Orr Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said: “The mountain hare is a keystone native species of the Scottish uplands. This authoritative research suggests that we should be very concerned about its population status in its former strongholds. We consider that large-scale population reduction culls are both illegal under EU law and unwarranted as a method for controlling grouse disease.

Management of this species should now be more tightly controlled by Scottish Natural Heritage to safeguard mountain hare populations. We expect this subject to be given thorough consideration by the current independent grouse moor enquiry, which is looking at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law.”


The full paper citation: Watson, A. and Wilson, J. (2018). Seven decades of mountain hare counts show severe declines where high-yield recreational game bird hunting is practised. Journal of Applied Ecology. [UPDATE 8am: Now available to read in full here]

Unfortunately we’re not allowed to publish the paper in full but here’s the abstract:

Amusingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s response to these damning results is a pathetic attempt to discredit the study by claiming, “Many of the gamekeepers in the survey area didn’t see the author undertake counts, even when they were working in these areas daily“.

The response from Scottish Land & Estates (issued via Media House!) isn’t much better: “We are perplexed that the author of this report did not seek to get data from moorland managers“. Er, that’s probably because Dr Watson knows that gamekeepers’ data aren’t exactly reliable and besides, he was collecting his own data, using a consistent method, for 70 years.

SLE’s press statement continues: “It will, however, come as little surprise that RSPB Scotland has chosen to release this paper, continuing its political campaigning against grouse moor management, on the day that the season gets underway and it is obviously an attempt to influence the ongoing independent review of grouse shooting which includes mountain hare management“. They’re such hypocrites, given what they published on Monday, blatantly timed to coincide with the start of the grouse shooting season!

Anyway, back to more important and relevant matters…..

Under the European Union’s Habitats Directive the Scottish Government has a legal duty to maintain mountain hare populations in a state of good health. In 2014 SNH called for a period of voluntary restraint on hare culls. Data from this study shows that declines continued in many areas despite this period of “restraint”.

In 2015 and 2017 ten environmental NGOs, led by RSPB Scotland, called for a moratorium on mountain hare culls until further information could be obtained to prove that populations were healthy and sustainable. The Scottish Government did not enact this moratorium with the reasoning that there was a lack of evidence to prove that populations were declining.

In 2016, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, in answer to a Parliamentary Question from Alison Johnstone MSP, stated:

If evidence emerges that large-scale culls are continuing, the Scottish Government will consider the case for tightening regulation of this issue.

Also in 2016, Roseanna addressed a OneKind rally outside the Scottish Parliament and said the Scottish Government opposes mass culls, that legislation to protect mountain hares has not been ruled out, but that the Government needs evidence before it can act.

Earlier this year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in Parliament that the brutal, military style mass culling of mountain hares on grouse moors was “not acceptableafter seeing video footage from OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports and Lush.

The time for talking has ended. The shocking results of this new scientific study cannot be ignored.

Please join 15,000 people and sign OneKind’s open letter to the Scottish Government and SNH calling for an end to this barbaric unregulated slaughter.

UPDATE 20.30hrs: Scottish Land & Estates admits it needs help to interpret scientific data (here)

Further calls to end mountain hare culling as slaughter season opens today

Press release from OneKind and League Against Cruel Sports Scotland (1st August 2018):

Charities have today intensified their calls for urgent action from the Scottish Government to prevent the further mass killing of Scotland’s mountain hares.

The open season on mountain hares begins today (1st August) and runs until 28 February. During this period, tens of thousands of mountain hares will be killed. The majority will be killed by gamekeepers to manage their land for red grouse shooting, while the rest are shot freely for fun.

[A pile of shot mountain hares left to rot on a grouse shooting estate in the Angus Glens]

Figures released earlier this year under Freedom of Information show that large-scale mountain hare killing has been routine in Scotland for many years, with an average of 25,961 mountain hare killed a year. However, numbers reached an all-time high in 2014 when 37,681 were killed.

83% of the Scottish public think culling should be regulated or made illegal, according to polling commission by OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports in May 2018.

[An ATV full of shot mountain hares photographed on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths, by Pete Walkden]

Harry Huyton, Director of OneKind said:

The First Minister and The Cabinet Secretary have both been clear that the large-scale culling of mountain hares is unacceptable, yet once again the killing season has begun, and Scotland’s mountain hares are left unprotected. It’s time to say enough is enough. We’re calling on the Scottish Government to move from rhetoric to action by introducing protections for mountain hares before the killing reaches its peak in the winter months”.

Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland said:

Scottish estates kill thousands and thousands of mountain hares in the hope that this will increase the population of red grouse shot for entertainment later in the year. Their equation is: more dead mountain hares equals more dead red grouse.

This circle of death is just one part of the out of control intensification of grouse moor management. The Government should both protect the mountain hare and seriously consider the wider impact that grouse moors have on Scotland’s wildlife and environment.”


OneKind has written an open letter to Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and Scottish Natural Heritage CEO Francesca Osowska, asking for urgent action. Please consider signing in support HERE

A short one-minute video summarising campaigners’ concerns about ongoing mountain hare culls in Scotland:

Gamekeepers invite First Minister to visit estates where mass slaughter of mountain hares takes place

Scottish gamekeepers have invited First Minister Nicola Sturgeon & Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to visit estates “to learn about mountain hare culls”.

The invitation comes after the First Minister’s angry response to recent video evidence showing the brutal, military-style killing of mountain hares undertaken by gamekeepers on several Scottish grouse moors and filmed by OneKind, Lush & the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) in February this year. Ms Sturgeon commented in Parliament that this mass killing was “not acceptable”.

Here’s the footage for those who missed it:

Presumably the invitation isn’t for the First Minister & the Cabinet Secretary to take part in a hare cull, or perhaps it is? Perhaps the gamekeepers envisage the pair kitted out in tweeds, riding on a quad bike across the moor, blasting hares in the face and legs with a shotgun, all in the name of ‘sport’ and ‘conservation’? Perhaps then they could go on to visit a stink pit to toss in the bloodied corpses on top of the pile of festering bodies already dumped there, with just enough time to set a few snares and batter to death a few cagefuls of trapped corvids before heading back to the big hoose for tea. How could they refuse such an invitation?

Here’s the press release from the gamekeepers:


Gamekeepers have invited the First Minister to visit their estates to find out about mountain hare management after she warned filmed culls were “not acceptable”.

Nicola Sturgeon said she was “angry” at footage filmed by animal rights charities which showed the animals being killed on shooting estates.

She warned large-scale mass culls could put the conservation status of the species at risk and said legislation to protect the hares is among options being considered by government.

Currently, landowners operate a voluntary restraint agreement regarding numbers culled.

Now, gamekeepers shown in the footage have written to the First Minister and Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to invite them to their estates to learn more about the rationale behind the killings.

Head gamekeeper for the Clune and Corrybrough Estates in Inverness-shire, Duncan MacKenzie, said: “We’d really like to be able to show the First Minister around rather than discuss these issues in Edinburgh.

I think it would be beneficial for everyone to get an understanding of why the hares need to be managed, here.”

He said the footage filmed by OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports and Lush showed “working people being secretly filmed carrying out a legal management activity which is no different to other forms of species management and is well within the laws passed by Scottish Government“.

The ironic thing is that those who are seeking the end of grouse management would also be signalling the beginning of the end for the mountain hare in Scotland,” he added.

Populations are thriving on grouse moors but are struggling badly elsewhere due to predation and loss of their preferred heather habitat and we hope to have the opportunity to explain this in full to the First Minister.”

Mr MacKenzie said the estates are not hiding anything, adding: “We have good records of the amount of hares in comparison to the amount we have taken off the hill, covering a number of years, and there are still high numbers of hares on the ground.”

The animal rights charities behind the footage claim it shows the agreement for voluntary restraint over culls has “failed” and along with broadcaster Chris Packham are calling for a cull ban until a review on the issue concludes.


And here’s a press release in response from RSPB Scotland:


In response to an invitation to the First Minister by gamekeepers to find out about mountain hare culls RSPB Scotland’s James Reynolds said: “If the First Minister is minded to accept this invitation she will of course also wish to visit and observe land of a similar nature, but managed more sustainably. A good example is the Cairngorms Connect project, which is being supported by The Scottish Government’s own Cairngorms National Park Authority – where multiple stakeholders involving the state, charities and the private sector are co-operating in partnership to deliver habitat restoration at a landscape scale for the benefit of local communities, local economy and Scottish environment.

RSPB Scotland is delighted that the current Scottish Government grouse moor enquiry is addressing the issue of unsustainable mountain hare culls, and undertaking an economic comparison of intensive management versus alternative models; we are sure the First Minister will also wish to give her full support to this initiative by her Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP.

The notion that the survival of mountain hares is entirely dependent on intensive grouse moor management is of course absolute nonsense.  Mountain hares existed quite happily in balance with their natural habitat since the last ice age before intensive grouse moor management began in the Victorian era. They will do so again if given the chance to flourish without needless mass culls.”