Scottish Land & Estates comment to Sunday Herald on Mountain Hares
The most up to date information on Mountain hares was gathered in 2007 by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, The Macaulay Institute (now James Hutton) and with support of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. This comprehensive survey showed that there had been no net loss or gain in distribution of mountain hares across Scotland between surveys in 1996 and 2007 implying that the population is stable and robust. It is widely accepted that mountain hares are closely associated with grouse moors and the survey showed that hares were present on 64% of the area of driven grouse moors. Where moors were managed only for walked up grouse shooting, mountain hares were reported on just 9% of the area and were essentially absent from moors which had no grouse interest. The relatively high numbers on managed moors means that culling will not endanger the population. It is correct that the annual cull is in the thousands but survey estimated that it represented only around 5-10% of the UK population. There was no evidence that this had reduced the distribution of mountain hares in the areas where they are culled so their future in Scotland does not seem to be at risk, and the idea that tougher measures are needed to protect them is not justified by the facts. Nevertheless, the mountain hare is a charismatic native species and concerns that they might be declining have led to it being included on the Biodiversity Action plan list. Moorland managers therefore must be careful that any culling they do is justified for tick control and based on good practice. Mountain hare populations move in cycles and analysis of the National Gamebag Census data indicates we may be at the bottom of a cycle. Regular monitoring is important and techniques of population counting are being improved under a SNH led research partnership.