RSPB Scotland calls for immediate halt to mountain hare culls on back of shocking new report

James Reynolds

Monday 26 August 2019

Government agency statement on status of protected species and habitats shows alarming decline in species’ population

New data published by the EU revealing the condition of Scottish protected species and habitats has revealed the country’s mountain hare populations have experienced a major decline.

As a result the status of the mountain hare has been downgraded to unfavourable, meaning that special conservation action needs to be undertaken to arrest further declines and aid their recovery.

The main cause of this reclassification has been identified as hunting and game management. Lesser pressures include the impacts of agriculture and habitat loss.

The Article 17 Report requires the Scottish Government to give information on the status of European protected habitats and species. Scottish Natural Heritage, the government’s own natural heritage advisors, have taken the action on the back of new evidence revealing catastrophic mountain hare declines particularly in areas managed for intensive driven grouse shooting activity.

RSPB Scotland have lobbied for many years to improve the protection for mountain hares in Scotland - calling for a moratorium in 2015 on the unregulated culling. Since then shocking new evidence has shown the species – a true emblem of Scotland’s wild places – has declined by over 90% in some sites managed for driven grouse shooting in spite of claims from the shooting industry that numbers remain healthy.

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.

Duncan continued: “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.”

Further information

  1. Article 17 requires that Member States report to the European Commission on their implementation of the Habitats Directive every six years.  The last (3rd) report covered 2007 – 2012.  The one due for publication in March 2020 covers 2013 – 2018 with the data for this available here in section 11 of the mountain hare report. 
  2. Mountain hares are protected against unsustainable killing by the European Union’s Habitats Directive. However, they are routinely culled on a large scale on many grouse moors. This practice has developed relatively recently, in the belief that it protects red grouse against the tick-borne louping ill virus and so increases the surplus of grouse to be shot at the end of the summer, despite the lack of scientific evidence to support this claim.
  3. The mountain hare is Britain’s only native hare and plays a vital part of the complex ecosystem of Scotland’s uplands and moorlands, including acting as an important source of prey for golden eagles, one of Scotland’s most well-known birds.
  4. Mountain hares are understood to spread very slowly from one area to another, meaning culls may have significant detrimental impacts on local populations.
  5. In December 2014, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) along with other partners, announced the beginning of a three-year study to trial methods of measuring mountain hare numbers to better inform their monitoring, how to assess their population status, and identify appropriate management measures. As part of this, SNH called for a voluntary restraint of large-scale mountain hare culls on grouse moors.

Last Updated: Monday 26 August 2019

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland Topic: Conservation