Land owners must be transparent about mountain hare culls, says Cairngorm National Park
Calls for more transparency in culls of mountain hares after OneKind report calls for ban of the practice
A prominent conservation authority has called on land managers to be clearer about culling procedures following a report on the persecution of mountain hares.
The Cairngorm National Park Authority advised hunting estates to be more transparent in providing information on the number of hares culled after a study by animal charity OneKind called on the Scottish Government to ban uncontrolled killing.
Mountain hare killings are unregulated in Scotland, but it is estimated 50 per cent of annual deaths are from organised culls.
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As well as being hunted for sport, it is thought the animal can carry viruses which can disrupt grouse shooting.
However, in March Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said in future it will “not be minded” to allow land owners to use snares to kill the animal.
Will Boyd-Wallis, Head of Land Management and Conservation at The Cairngorm National Park Authority, said: “We do not support large scale culling and endorse the call for restraint made by SNH.
“Our advice to land managers is to set out clearly why culls are undertaken, share information on the numbers of hares culled and where possible to count hare numbers consistently while waiting for the recommendations on counting methodology from the current research.”
OneKind has urged Holyrood to introduce a moratorium on large scale killings before the season begins in earnest tomorrow.
The Scottish Government is to set up an independent review of grouse moor management, which will include the culling of mountain hares.
A spokesperson told the BBC: "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.”
The report identifies 25 different companies offering recreational mountain hare shooting in Scotland, eight of which are backed by the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group.
One of the organisations, Mirani Hunting, used a photo of hunters standing by the carcasses of dozens of hares on their website, but it has since removed the image.
SCPTG have received £36,675 from government agencies Visit Scotland and The Scottish Natural Heritage in the last 5 years.
OneKind Director Harry Huyton said: “I hope that Visit Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage share our surprise and displeasure with what we have revealed in our report.
“It’s simply not appropriate for Government agencies to actively promote the large-scale recreational killing of native wildlife.
“I am writing to both agencies today to ask them to remove their endorsement of the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group and businesses that offer these services.”
He continued, “This killing is unregulated, and there are no guarantees that it is not further driving the decline of these species or causing unacceptable suffering.”
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While the overall number of recorded crimes fell from 284 instances in 2014/15 to 261 in 2015/16, the number of crimes involving hunting with dogs rose to its highest in five years