Latest science key to future of mountain hare management

Press Release

Evidence rather than ideology should be the basis for future legislation on wildlife management, Scottish Land & Estates said today.

Speaking at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston, SLE chairman David Johnstone said there was a need for care in introducing new laws on the back of activism rather than balanced research from independent sources.

On Monday (June 24), Alison Johnstone MSP will call new legislation to restrict mountain hare management despite government backed research demonstrating their prosperous numbers on Scottish grouse moors as well as restrictions on culls already being in place.

David Johnstone said: “Less than two years ago, Scottish Natural Heritage – the government’s own nature body – said that they did not consider that a moratorium on mountain hare culling was justified at that time, with evidence of a national decline in numbers not conclusive. Even since 2017, substantial new research has been undertaken to further our collective knowledge about mountain hare populations, none of which supports fresh calls for a ban.

“Control of mountain hare populations is already subject to legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2011 and an EU Habitats Directive which requires their number to be maintained at a ‘favourable conservation status’. The current population is estimated at 135,000 and is constantly renewing.”

Mr Johnstone added that the issue of mountain hares was closely related to grouse moor management, which is currently being reviewed by an independent panel established by government and is due to report very soon.

David continued: “A new counting method for mountain hares was rolled out following the 2018 publication of a three-year research project that compared different methodology. The work, undertaken by the James Hutton Institute and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), was commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

“Earlier this year, new GWCT research found that the management of driven grouse moors appeared to provide a net benefit to mountain hare populations, even after population control was factored in.

“In the Highland region, for example, the density of mountain hares on driven grouse moors was 35 times higher than on moors not managed for shooting.

“This would clearly suggest that mountain hares are doing better on grouse moors than anywhere else in Scotland, where legal predator control is undertaken and heather – a key part of their diet - is flourishing.

“No mention is made in this proposed bill of the 100,000 deer that are culled in Scotland each year or the greater number of rabbits that are killed, for broadly the same reasons as hares are managed. As a result, it would cast doubt on the welfare objectives of this bill.

“We recognise that this is a complex area of land management policy but it is incumbent on all sides of the debate to put forward their case in light of the work that is currently underway between government, researchers and land managers on the ground.”