We Care for the Mountain Hare!

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Harry Huyton
01 August 2016

We Care for the Mountain Hare!

Today we’re launching a new campaign to protect the mountain hare from persecution. We’re taking a giant mountain hare to Aviemore, gateway to the Highlands to raise awareness of the widespread killing that takes place across Scotland, even in the National Parks. Like us on Facebook to follow the campaign as there is lots more to come!

From today it’s open season on mountain hares. You can shoot as many as you like, no questions asked. And that’s exactly what’s happening. Tens of thousands are shot every year, with one study estimating that 25,000 were killed in one year.

Even in the Cairngorms National Park, they are killed in enormous numbers by hunting parties out for the thrill, and by gamekeepers managing land for red grouse shooting. They fear the mountain hare will spread disease, reducing the amount of grouse they can shoot. Never mind the ethics of eradicating one species so that you can shoot more of another, the scientific basis for culling mountain hare to benefit red grouse is so tenuous that SNH’s scientific experts advise that “There is no clear evidence that mountain hare culls serve to increase red grouse densities”.

The killing is secretive, taking place in isolated places, but occasionally members of the public stumble upon a hunt or left over dead bodies, shedding light on this shameful and widespread practice:

  • Lammermuir hills, 2014 – RSPB Scotland received evidence that between 1500 and 1700 mountain hares were shot by landowners across the Lammermuirs in the spring.
  • Balmoral, 2016 - Two culls involving Balmoral and neighbouring estates were witnessed, one of which was said to have killed 500 hares.
  • Lecht mountain pass, 2016 - A birdwatcher encountered a mountain hare cull. Images show a group of 20 armed gamekeepers equipped with more than a dozen high-tech off-road vehicles and hundreds of dead hares. 
  • Durisdeer, Moray 2011 – A OneKind researcher found piles of dead mountain hare being used in a ‘stinkpit’ to attract foxes which are then snared (pictured).

Clearly the killing of so many of a native species is a cause of conservation concern. There are reports that mountain hare have been eradicated from certain areas, and the species is expected to come under serious pressure from climate change. But what seems to have been forgotten in this debate is the ethics of killing a native species at such scale and the impact this is having on their welfare.

Shooting hare is notoriously challenging as they are small, fast moving animals and because the shooting takes place in an environment where plenty of cover is available. This heightens the risk of injury rather than clean kills. Commercial hunts may also involve hunters with little experience, adding to this risk. As shooting is not a licensed activity there is no welfare monitoring or reporting so it’s impossible to know the scale of the suffering. Given the nature and scale of the activity, however, it’s reasonable to assume that suffering is widespread.

The Scottish Government appear to share our concern to a certain extent. They called for voluntary restraint’ on large-scale culls of mountain hares and have commissioned further research into the mountain hare population and the impact of persecution. Yet it is clear that their call has gone unheard, and we believe that we already know enough to know that protecting the mountain hare from commercial hunting and culling is urgent.

Today we are launching a new campaign that will send a loud and clear message to the Scottish Government:  we care for the mountain hare. We aim to build the pressure on this issue over the coming months, even years - however long it takes to end the persecution and the suffering it causes.

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