Snaring mountain hares ends because of ‘unnecessary suffering’

Harry Huyton's avatar
Harry Huyton
17 March 2017

For years, OneKind has argued that snaring mountain hares should be banned. Both because of the suffering it causes and the impact it could be having on the declining population of this native species.

Snares set for mountain hares

This week, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have finally confirmed that they will no longer be issuing licenses for snaring mountain hares, effectively banning it.

We are delighted. Not just because it’s the final nail in the coffin for this cruel practice, but also because it sets an important precedent. More on this in a moment, first the background.

Snaring mountain hares was once extensive on grouse moors in the Scottish Highlands. Estate managers were concerned that the hares would spread ‘Louping ill’ virus to precious red grouse, which are needed for commercial shooting.  Particularly notorious were estates like Cawdor, where 16 dead mountain hares and evidence of extensive snaring were discovered in 2008, and Lochindorb, which fought and, in 2013, won a four-year legal battle in defence of mountain hare snaring. M-shaped snares like the ones pictured above were used until 2011 when they were banned, and subsequently conventional snares were used.

A study commissioned by SNH estimated that over 5,000 mountain hares were trapped in snares and killed in Scotland in one year during 2006/7. Subsequent research by OneKind showed that the vast majority of this took place illegally, with estates setting snares without licences. This, and the Lochindorb case, which brought much scrutiny to the issue, led to a tougher approach by SNH. As a result, the number of licenses issued for mountain hare snaring has been in decline since then. Since 2012, SNH has issued only four licenses that might have allowed snaring, and in 2016 two licences issued for mountain hare control were amended to remove snaring as a permitted method.

Last week the Scottish Government published a long-awaited review of snaring. The review was deeply disappointing as for some inexplicable reason it failed to even consider a ban. However, hidden deep in the report was the following paragraph:

Concerns have been raised with SNH over the welfare impacts of snaring hares to the effect that it is difficult to advise on a method of snaring that does not cause unnecessary suffering – that they cannot be used effectively as a killing trap because animals take too long to die and are not effective as a restraining means because there is too high a risk of killing or injury. The lack of any apparent means or guidance to avoid this means that SNH will not be minded to issue licences unless the contrary can be evidenced.

This is incredibly significant. Not only has SNH decided to stop issuing licenses, but they have done so because the traps are inhumane as they cause ‘unnecessary suffering’.

Wow. Think about this for a moment. SNH have, in this case, effectively applied an ‘unnecessary suffering’ test to snaring mountain hares. This is a logical and evidence-based approach, and, unsurprisingly it led to the conclusion that licenses should no longer be issued. What if the same test was applied to snaring foxes? Or to crow and magpie traps? Or spring traps? My guess is that none of these would pass a rigorous application of this test either. 

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