Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group part of Scottish Land & Estates, said the call from some wildlife organisations for a three-year-ban on the culling of mountain hares is a heavy-handed, ill-informed initiative that fails to reflect the true picture of what is happening on grouse moors.
"There is no threat to the population of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors. It is simply not true. Within the last few months we have seen record numbers of hares in some places. Only last month we took Scottish Natural Heritage to an estate where the hare population was allegedly endangered. The reality, as SNH could clearly see, was there were as many hares there as the gamekeepers could remember.
"We firmly believe the management of the hare population as it is at present is sustainable. This does mean some culling for sound habitat conservation reasons but not to the extent where it threatens a population. We know in broad terms the numbers of hares and it is a population that is thriving.
"It is heavy handed and ill-informed to hide behind the fact that there is no scientific evidence to show exactly how many hares there are. It's a bit like saying you don't know how many football fans are on their way to a game when there are clearly thousands of them.
"Gamekeepers and estate owners are working with Scottish Natural Heritage and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) to ensure that any culling is proportionate. If there was no control of the hare population there would be a clear threat to tree planting as well as the risk to red grouse from the louping ill virus and spread of ticks. The most productive approach is for all conservation organisations to work more constructively with the people on the ground whose job it is to manage moorland habitat, which supports mountain hares, on a daily basis. Such collaboration would be welcomed.
"We recognise the duty of care towards mountain hares and their protected status under the EU Habitats Directive. This was reflected in the joint position agreed between SNH, Scottish Land & Estates and the GWCT."