However, this issue isn’t new.
Nine years ago (yes, nine), a complaint was made to the EU that Scotland was in breach of European law (Habitats Directive) because SNH was allowing the unrestricted killing of mountain hares on grouse moors without knowing whether those culls were affecting the species’ conservation status. The complaint was made by Neil Macdonald, a former wildlife officer with Tayside Police. His complaint was publicised by environmental journalist Rob Edwards, here.
According to Edwards’ report, SNH accepted that there could be a problem. SNH’s scientific director Colin Galbraith was quoted as follows:
“The culling of mountain hares on some Highland estates is an issue that SNH is aware of and takes very seriously“.
So what happened to that EU complaint? Well, according to Dr Adam Watson (we blogged about his tirade against SNH’s failure to protect mountain hares here) this is what happened:
‘EU staff did follow this up, by requesting SNH for its views and advice. I have been told that SNH senior staff responded to the EU by asserting that they would have informed the EU if they had been aware of such severe problems. Thus the EU then ended their pursuit of Macdonald’s complaint‘ [quoted from page 132 of Watson’s book Mammals in north-east Highlands (2013)].
So here we are, nine years on, and what’s SNH doing? Calling on grouse moor managers to practice ‘voluntary restraint’ on hare culling – in our opinion, a pointless effort (see here). Oh, and conducting more ‘trials’ to work out how to count mountain hares. Seriously, we can do full face transplants, we can communicate immediately with millions of people around the globe with a single click, we can land a robot on the surface of a comet…..but we can’t figure out how to count hares on a few hill sides? Come on.
And as we predicted, SNH’s latest ‘trials’ are being used as an excuse by the Government to delay any immediate action to protect mountain hares. In December, Alison Johnstone MSP asked a Parliamentary question on what action the Scottish Government is taking to protect hares. This question was answered last week by Environment Minister Aileen McLeod (although to be fair to her, her response is probably just a regurgitation of what SNH has told her). Here’s what she said:
Question S4W-23615: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014
To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4W-18470 by Paul Wheelhouse on 4 December 2013, whether it will provide an update on the information regarding mountain hares.
Answered by Aileen McLeod (06/01/2015):
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the James Hutton Institute and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, acting on the advice of several mountain hare experts, have started work on field trialling a range of methods of assessing mountain hare numbers, to develop a better monitoring strategy and to improve the quality of the information used to assess population status and the sustainability of hare management measures. This programme of work is due to be completed in 2017.
Until this study is complete, and because of recent concerns about the status of mountain hares, SNH has developed a joint position statement on the subject of hare culling following consultation with key stakeholders representing moorland managers, namely Scottish Land & Estates and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. The statement is evidence-based and argues that large scale culls of mountain hares to reduce tick loads, and thus to benefit grouse and other bird survival, are only effective when other tick-carrying animals are removed as well, or where they are absent. The intention is to work with estates to put in place effective but sustainable management of mountain hares. More information about the joint position statement can be found on the SNH website
In addition, a review of sustainable moorland management is currently being undertaken by a sub-group of experts from SNH’s Scientific Advisory Committee chaired by Professor Alan Werritty. This includes the management of mountain hares as one of a number of issues connected with sustainable moorland management practices. This review is due to be completed by March 2015.
Earlier in 2014, SNH was provided with additional hare count data, collected over many years in some cases. These quantitative data are potentially very useful, as previous evidence of local declines was largely based on anecdote. This information has been made available to the above SNH Scientific Advisory Committee sub-group as part of the review process.
If, like us, you don’t think SNH is doing anywhere near enough to protect this iconic species from the indiscriminate slaughter that continues across Scotland’s driven grouse moors, you might want to consider signing a petition which calls on SNH to confer immediate protected species status on the mountain hare and thus put an end to this barbaric, disgusting butchery. Please sign it HERE.