Ten wildlife charities have called on the Scottish Government to impose a ban on culling wild mountain hares for three years. This is so safeguards can be put in place to allow for sustainable management of the species, and to make sure international obligations are met.
Mountain hares (Lepus timidus) have a very wide distribution throughout Russia, Northern Europe, Greenland and Iceland. However, after the introduction of the brown hare (Lepus europaeus) to England in Roman times they became restricted to upland regions where they were able to thrive, unlike the brown hare.
By the 19th century they were found only in the Scottish Highlands, although some landowners and farmers released populations of mountain hares across British uplands. Many of these re-introduced groups are no longer around, meaning the core popultion still live in the Scottish Highlands.
Duncon Orr-Ewing from the RSPB Scotland worries that “we also don’t know what impact these large scale culls are having on mountain hares’ wider conservation status which could mean that the Scottish Government may be in breach of its legally binding international EU obligations to this species.”
In December 2014, Scottish National Heritage started a three-year study, the aim of which is to trial methods of measuring mountain hare numbers. Once results are published they will be able to identify the best way to monitor populations and measure the impact that management is having on their conservation status.
The ten organisations asking for the ban are:
Highland Foundation for Wildlife
John Muir Trust
National Trust for Scotland
Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
Scottish Raptor Study Group
The Scottish Wildlife Trust
The Cairngorms Campaign
The Mammal Society
The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government has said that they recognise there are genuine concerns being expressed and “we are happy to meet with all interested parties to discuss how to ensure this much-loved species continues to thrive in the Scottish uplands.”
She also spoke about the study, which is to be completed in 2017, and confirmed that the Scottish Government “introduced a close season for mountain hares in 2011 to protect them when they are likely to have dependent young.”
Scottish National Heritage has pledged to work with “all interested parties” to make sure the longevity of the mountain hare is not damaged due to management practices.
However, the call for a ban has not been greeted openly by everyone. The Scottish Gameskeepers Association says that “for groups with environmental credentials to call for such an environmentally irresponsible measure beggars belief.
“The numbers of tick, already a growing problem in the countryside, will escalate, endangering any bird that nests on the ground, not to mention the potential repercussions for human health.
“It will be bad for birds and bad for biodiversity.”
To sign the e-petition being sent to the Scottish ministers go here.
Image by Mark Hamblin: www.markhamblin.com
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