Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Culling of Mountain Hares

As a result of the concerns amongst some Forum members about the content of the articles about culling of hares that appeared in recent newspapers,  (see the post on 11 January about the 'Scotland on Sunday' article published on 9 January), the following letter has been sent to the editors of the papers that carried the story:

Dear Sir,

Your article relating to hare culls in Scotland is inaccurate. Scottish moors can continue to harvest hares without fear of compromising their European conservation status.

Over the years mountain hares have become an important asset for many estates in  Highland Scotland. This is because management for red grouse, notably improving habitat and controlling predators, has allowed mountain hare populations in Scotland to build densities up to 10 times greater than seen anywhere else in Europe. Indeed, some moors need to do so in order to enhance and protect the very moorland management hares have come to depend on. This issue has been discussed by Scotland’s Moorland Forum without major concerns being raised.

When sheep treated with tick killing (rather than attracting) chemicals are present and there are few deer to support the tick population, hare densities have sometimes had to be reduced to suppress viral disease of sheep and red grouse. This ultimately protects the investment in heather moorland which both hares, grouse and tourism depends upon. Similarly, some suppression of hare population densities may be necessary on some occasions to allow woodland regeneration.

Of the reported 25,000 hares culled per year it has to be considered in the context of a national population of around 350,000. In real terms, any cull representing less than 10% of a population is entirely sustainable.  Allegations of local ‘over-culling’ have never been quantified and given the range over which eagles hunt are unlikely to have consequential impacts on raptors. Recent research by Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, SNH and the Macaulay Institute it was found that the range of mountain hare had not changed – a sign of a healthy population.

We recognise it is good practice for moorland managers to consider the impact of their actions on their own and neighbouring hare populations. Therefore we welcome, with some adjustments, the hare closed season in Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill. But moors must also take account of the need to secure the future of the key driver of the hare population, investment in red grouse shooting.

Yours faithfully,

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
Scottish Rural and Property Business Association
Scottish Gamekeepers Association
British Association of Shooting and Conservation (Scotland)
Scottish Countryside Alliance
Scottish Estates Business Group
The Heather Trust

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