RSPB Scotland calls for immediate halt to mountain hare culls
RSPB Scotland has called for an immediate halt to mountain hare culls after new data revealed populations in Scotland have experienced a major decline.
The report, based on Scottish Natural Heritage’s submission to the EU’s Article 17 report on the protection of habitats and species, has led to the mountain hare’s status to be downgraded to unfavourable, meaning that special conservation action needs to be taken to arrest further declines.
The RSPB highlighted evidence of a 90 per cent decline in some sites managed for driven grouse shooting, warning that “self-regulation and claimed ‘voluntary restraint’ from culling by the industry has been nothing short of a pitiful failure”.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “We have been extremely concerned about the state of our mountain hare populations for many years.
“In the last 12 months new, robust evidence has shown that populations have declined precipitously, chiefly in areas managed for driven grouse shooting. This reclassification to unfavourable status demands urgent action.
“The recognition from Scottish Government’s own advisors that the mountain hare population is now unfavourable means that increased protection of this iconic species is needed. Self-regulation and claimed ‘voluntary restraint’ from culling by the industry has been nothing short of a pitiful failure.
“We urge the Scottish Government to take action where the industry has not and to urgently increase the protection of mountain hares in Scotland until their status is secured.”
But the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust disputed evidence of a decline. A spokesperson said: “It is the natural variability of mountain hare numbers and the absence of a national mountain hare count rather than any clear evidence of major declines resulting from hunting, as suggested inaccurately by the RSPB, that has led to the change of status for mountain hares in the report.
“Data from hunting records across Europe have shown that mountain hare numbers tend to fluctuate in cycles. The characteristics of these cycles vary, but typically the population can fluctuate from below half to almost double the average population size every 4-15 years. The most recent population estimate in the UK ranges between 81,000 and 526,000 hares.
“The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has found robust mountain hare numbers using SNH approved count methods close to sites that the report to which the RSPB refers states as having zero hare abundance.
“Moreover, research from GWCT published in 2019 demonstrates that mountain hares are most widespread in north-eastern Scotland on managed grouse moors, where their numbers can be up to 35 times higher than areas where grouse are not shot.”