Mountain hare numbers are managed in a responsible and sustainable manner by estates, the Scottish Moorland Group has said.
The organisation, which represents moorland estates across Scotland, issued the following statement following a protest outside Holyrood over hare culls.
Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, said: “Whilst we recognise that there may be concerns from the public about mountain hares, estates are committed to managing mountain hare populations in a responsible manner.
“We have seen suggestions that some culls are unsustainable or that it is compromising the conservation status in the hare strongholds on managed moorland. This is simply not the case, and hare populations are only managed in the same way as deer numbers are controlled.
“It should be recognised that mountain hares thrive on managed moorland and the high population numbers are testament to the management that takes place. Gamekeepers know their ground and are able to work out when they need to cull. In many years, keepers exercise voluntary restraint and do not cull - and would only do so where hare numbers are high and they are likely to cause problems of disease and grazing sensitive habitats, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
“Moorland managers value hares as a well-loved part of upland wildlife, and information from estates that have gained Wildlife Estates Scotland accreditation in the last two years indicates that mountain hare numbers are greater on managed moorland habitats.
“We look forward to the results of the GWCT/JHI research to enable everyone to calculate populations more precisely and we will continue to work with Scottish Natural Heritage, the Cairngorms National Park through the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, and with other stakeholders through the Moorland Forum, to continue to refine best practice in hare management and the way that culls are carried out for the long term benefit of the species and other moorland wildlife.”