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Open season on Scottish mountain hares

An animal protection charity is asking the Scottish government to call time on the shooting of Scottish mountain hares. A new report reveals the extent of the cull, with the animals facing increased pressure as hunting season comes into view.

On game estates across Scotland, landowners are getting ready to welcome visitors for what is termed “the glorious twelfth,” the start of the grouse shooting season. For mountain hares, this means culls. Tomorrow is the first day of open season on the animals, which are shot on the grouse moors. Some are killed in a bid to protect grouse numbers, and a large proportion find themselves targets of a country sport. One study found that over 24,500 mountain hares were killed between 2006-2007 alone.

OneKind, the animal protection charity behind a new report, is calling for change. They ask for new measures, including protection for the animals in national parks, and for mountain hare killing to be stopped, except under licence. When it comes to licensing agreements, the group calls for strengthening and greater transparency.

OneKind Director Harry Huyton said: “Mountain hares are an iconic species in Scotland that should be protected. Our report shows that instead they are persecuted in enormous numbers for entertainment.”

From March to July, mountain hares are protected, and unless a license is in place their persecution is illegal. When the season starts in August, the story changes, and they can be killed freely, without any permissions needed. This means there is no reporting, and no welfare monitoring.

The OneKind director said: “This killing is unregulated, and there are no guarantees that it is not further driving the decline of these species or causing unacceptable suffering.”

Mountain hares on the back of a truck - Peter Walkden

The charity said the principle reason for culling is the control of the louping-ill virus transmitted by ticks, which can infect red grouse. Although mountain hare carry ticks, it said there is no evidence that controlling their numbers will support red grouse management.

While it estimates that this reason accounts for 50% of hares culled, a further 40% are shot for sport.

Found grazing on sub-alpine scrub and grouse moors, the mountain hare is integral to the uplands ecosystem. While studies on their numbers are scarce, the report points to a 34% overall decline in the species between 2009 and 2014.

The Scottish government said: "We have been very clear that we will not tolerate large-scale culls of mountain hares, but we recognise that numbers need to be controlled in some specific circumstances.”

It is launching an examination into the sustainability of grouse moor management, and mountain hare culling will be one area of focus.

Header image courtesy of Andrew Parkinson.

Centre image courtesy of Peter Walkden, showing a vehicle filled with dead hares.

Comment (1)
1 Comment

emmajaneconnolly_6714657

about 2 years ago

I have created a petition against this. It is currently at nearly 6,500 signatures! Please sign and share! https://www.change.org/p/scottish-parliament-ban-mountain-hare-culling-on-grouse-moors?source_location=discover_feed