Mountain hares face extinction threat

Mountain hares web

Scottish wildlife groups have said more has to be done to stop culling of the animal

13th October 2017 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Mountain hare culls are continuing despite a period of voluntary restraint - Scottish wildlife organisations have said.

A coalition of 10 environmental and outdoor organisations have repeated their appeal to the Scottish Government to introduce urgent safeguards for mountain hare populations.

The group is asking for a temporary ban on all mountain hare culling on grouse moors until measures are put in place to ensure their numbers can remain at sustainable levels.

They have highlighted the government has a duty to maintain mountain hare populations in a state of good health, otherwise it may be in breach of its legally binding international obligations for this species. However, mountain hares are now routinely culled on a large scale across many grouse moors in Scotland.

In 2014, the coalition warned the Scottish Government that the voluntary restraint that was claimed to be in place was unlikely to protect these mammals from wide-scale culls on grouse moors, including in the Cairngorms National Park.

Since then, there have been multiple reports of culls being carried out across the country - suggesting that pleas have been ignored. The culls are believed to be having a serious negative effect on hare populations. In some areas it has been shown that the culls are leading to severe population declines and potentially even local extinctions.

Duncan Orr-Ewing from RSPB Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government needs to do more to safeguard these iconic species of our upland areas. In 2014 we had serious concerns that the notion of voluntary restraint would be ignored by many in the grouse shooting industry and, with the evidence of culls continuing on many moors over the last three years, it seems that these fears have been well founded.

“The start of the mountain hare season has already begun meaning hare populations will continue to be put at risk by unregulated culls that we believe, are resulting in localised disappearance of hare populations.

“We still do not know what impact these large scale culls are having on mountain hares’ wider conservation status and this could mean that the Scottish Government may be in breach of its legally binding international obligations for this species."

Alison Johnstone MSP said: “The mountain hare is a true icon of our upland areas and an important part of our natural heritage. The unnecessary and unregulated culling of mountain hares on intensive grouse moors across Scotland is damaging populations of this species beyond recovery.”

The coalition includes: RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Raptor Study Group, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Cairngorms Campaign, National Trust for Scotland, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Mammal Society, John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland.

A government spokesperson said: "Scottish Natural Heritage is examining the available evidence. If this points to continuing high levels of culling of hares that could cause significant population declines, locally or nationally, the Scottish government will consider bringing forward further measures to protect them.

"We are also establishing an independent group to examine how we can ensure grouse moor management practices are sustainable and compliant with the law.

"We would expect mountain hare management to be part of the group's work."