The Scottish Parliament yesterday voted to give mountain hares special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Gamekeepers on grouse moors will no longer be able to carry out mass culls, thought to be responsible for up to 25,000 deaths each year. In Scotland it will now be an offence to kill mountain hares without a licence.
In 2018 a study showed that hare numbers on grouse moors in the eastern Highlands had declined to less than one per cent of their historic levels, with intensive culling cited as the chief culprit:
The Werrity report for the Scottish Government, which recommended licensing of grouse moors last year, concluded that mountain hares required greater protection. But it took an amendment from Scottish Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone, and the weight of a public campaign, to bring about the change.
Johnstone called the culling an "indiscriminate brutal slaughter" and "obscene", and said that her amendment had been backed in a petition with 23,000 signatories.
"I'm delighted the Scottish Government has finally given into pressure to protect this iconic native species," she said.
"The sheer volume of interventions from those defending our wildlife was impossible to ignore, and saw off pressure from the grouse-shooting lobby, who once again attempted to undermine the evidence by claiming that killing these animals also protects them."
Grouse moor managers and gamekeepers shoot hares on the grounds they carry ticks and diseases which affect red grouse, and that they feed on heather, shrubs and saplings.
Sarah-Jane Laing, the chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners, said: "These changes will not help Scotland's wildlife, which is the prime concern of gamekeepers and land managers.
"Mountain hares are thriving on Scotland's moors and their fate will not be improved by this vote. There is clear evidence that the control of hares helps combat tick and Lyme disease and protect plants and young trees. Balanced wildlife management is key to meeting Scottish government targets on biodiversity and tree planting."
UKH/UKC explored both sides of the grouse moor management debate in this article in February:
Despite similar calls to prevent the large-scale killing of beavers in Tayside, ministers yesterday were not swayed. As many as 87 beavers were shot under licence in 2019.