A new joint initiative urging voluntary restraint on large scale culls of mountain hares has been launched.
It is hoped that the move by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) should, along with several other measures, help ensure that future management is sustainable.
Ron Macdonald, SNH’s director of policy and advice, said: “We are asking estates for restraint on large-scale culls of mountain hares which could jeopardise the conservation status of mountain hares.
“We recognise that some culling is occasionally needed to ensure healthy grouse stocks, but available evidence shows that large-scale culls of mountain hares are only effective when other tick-carrying animals are removed, or there is an absence of them in the area. Where such animals are not removed we urge that hare culls should not be undertaken.
“We do not support large-scale culls and we will work with estates to put in place effective but sustainable management of mountain hares.”
SNH has also joined forces with the James Hutton Institute (JHI) and Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) to begin a three-year joint study to trial several methods of assessing mountain hare population densities to determine the number of hares in a particular area.
Mountain hare populations are under threat from habitat loss, fragmentation and, in some areas, from large, local culls on grouse moors. Although not a fully protected species, the UK is obliged to ensure that the status of hare populations is not threatened in any way.
The project will develop a reliable and cost-effective field method that can be used to form the basis of a longer-term monitoring programme for the first time. This will lead to a better understanding of how hare populations are faring at both local and national scales, and to better-informed decisions about their sustainable management.