Friday 11 November 2016


No out of season mountain hare culls have been authorised for grouse management since the WANE Act introduced  a closed season to protect them during vulnerable times of the year.
Growing numbers of mountain hares are being culled outside of the agreed seasons in Scotland to prevent them causing serious damage to new trees.
The findings were revealed via a Freedom Of Information request to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) by The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).
In 2011, The Wildlife and Natural Environment Act introduced for the first time in Scotland a closed season to protect the mountain or ‘blue’ hare at vulnerable times of the year.
The Act made it unlawful to kill the species between March 1st and July 31st, unless under special licenses granted in ‘exceptional circumstances’ from SNH.
Conditions under which licences could be granted were to mitigate against disease and damage and only if the cull would not affect the hare’s conservation status.
Since the Act came into force in 2012, it has been revealed that all licences, enabling mountain hares to be culled year round in Scotland, have been signed off to prevent hares causing serious damage to young trees.
In the past three years, the number culled out of season for this purpose has also risen.
On top of the numbers culled to prevent grazing and browsing damage during the open season, applications for an additional 575 hares to be culled in the close season were approved in 2014 with a further 700 in 2015.
Up to the end of March 2016, SNH had already granted licences for 838 hares to be controlled outside of the legal seasons on 5 sites in order to protect new saplings.
“Mountain hares are a fascinating species, largely because they change their coats to camouflage themselves against the winter snow. As with other herbivores, however, large numbers at one site are a proven threat to the establishment of young woodland,” said SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.
“Grants for new forestry are given on the basis that new stock must be protected from damage and we know mountain hare numbers in some areas of new woodland are having to be kept right down, all year round.
“In the past 25 years in the Cairngorms National Park, there has been approximately a quarter of a million acres given over to land use change to enable afforestation. With further ambitious targets for new tree planting schemes in Scotland, the use of out of season licences to suppress the numbers to enable tree establishment is likely to become the norm.”
The culling of mountain hares has become a hot subject, with animal rights groups blaming grouse estates for heavy culls to prevent disease and to minimise the spread of tick.
Of the 26 applications made to SNH for out of season licences up to March 2016, only two were related to aspects of grouse moor management, specifically heather damage and tick control.
Both of these licenses were refused by SNH.
Animal rights activists are calling for a ban on the killing of mountain hares and are set to protest outside Holyrood next week.
SGA Committee Member Ronnie Kippen, a gamekeeper in Perthshire for 45 years, believes activists should be mindful of the consequences of their wishes.
“In the 80s, before mechanised snow vehicles, there were 2 consecutive years where we couldn’t control the hare numbers because of heavy snow. In the spring of year 3, they died in their thousands, all over the hill, from intestinal parasites and it took 5 or 6 years for their numbers to come back again.
“If you don’t manage the population each year, you are looking at serious damage to habitats and dead hares lying everywhere rather than going back into the food chain. People might have good intentions but that is what will happen.”