New petition puts more pressure on SNH to protect mountain hares

There’s been a lot of publicity recently, and quite rightly, about the unregulated mass slaughter of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors (e.g. see here, here, here and here).

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.

mountain hare cull angus glens large

15 Responses to “New petition puts more pressure on SNH to protect mountain hares”

  1. 1 Marco McGinty
    January 10, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Signed, with pleasure.

  2. 2 Chris Roberts
    January 10, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    Likewise, signed, with pleasure.

  3. January 10, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Signed. I wish we had a government that wasn’t in the same bed as the shooting fraternity.

  4. 4 Les Wallace
    January 11, 2015 at 12:34 am

    Is it just me or is this real life turning into a Monty Python sketch? Vast areas of land given over to cutting and burning of heather to maximise grouse numbers, likewise slaughter of ANYTHING that might eat them and now another species hammered as it carries something that may have SOME effect on unnaturally high grouse populations, BECAUSE some people pay lots of money to blast lots of them out of the sky. It makes as much sense as killing rhino for their horn. If we did more to hold up the utter stupidity of this to the British people and didn’t allow the relevant parties to get off spouting about ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ think we’d get a lot further faster in fighting raptor persecution and so much else. Thanks for highlighting this issue!

  5. January 11, 2015 at 8:53 am

    As I said in an entry on Facebook when promoting the petition, here we have another instance of the shooting fraternity taking up a self appointed position for their own purposes which then affects our wildlife. Furthermore it also seems that SNH immediately “bend the knee” and pander to the shooting fraternity’s demands and assertions. Am I right in thinking that it was the same senior SNH officer who, amidst a lot of razzmatazz, advocated that the public should be encouraged to submit sightings of Hen Harriers in the breeding season to assist a follow up protection strategy. What did that little gem result in?

  6. 6 Alex Milne
    January 11, 2015 at 10:06 am

    I have signed the petition, but I feel it is addressed to the wrong person, an SNH director. As this blog (brilliant, by the way) has clearly pointed out, SNH have failed in their duty. They have had their chance, many times over.
    It is time for the government to take them to task. Now, I could write to my MSP, but I’m sure that there are sufficient MSPs following this blog who know what to do. The Scottish government, and most if not all of the other parties, are saying that we do not have to put up with the wishes of the “establishment”. SNH are not a branch office of Natural England, and that needs explaining to them. The bold approach to SLE and GCWT is nothing of the sort. Aileen McLeod has been in post a while now, and her reply, in the light of this and previous posts here, is just not good enough. I hope to see fur flying, and not only from mountain hares.

  7. January 11, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Civilised world.!?, just awful

  8. January 11, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Mountain hare culling was discussed on the BBC’s Out of Doors programme yesterday, featuring Adam Smith from the GWCT who was trying to justify the killing (with nobody else on hand to counter his arguments).

    The presenter’s understanding of mountain hares was revealed by his moronic question about why the hares’ coats change colour in the winter: “What a stupid thing to do”.

    Smith made a bit of a Freudian slip when describing why mountain hares live on grouse moors: “They benefit from the same kind of predator control that the grouse also benefit from, so their predators are the grouse’s predators – the foxes, the stoats, the eagles”. Surely not implying that eagles are subject to ‘predator control’ (i.e. killing)?

    You can listen to the programme on iPlayer for the next 4 weeks (starts at 51.01):


  9. January 11, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Scottish Natural Heritage know the reality, but have no bottle. The Scottish Government’s Aileen McLeod is looking like a light weight.

  10. 10 Chris Roberts
    January 11, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    It is disgusting and increasingly typical for the BBC to feature just one side of the argument. The government side on this occasion. As our current one is as keen to kill off our wildlife, just as much as the shooting estates and gamekeepers.

  11. 11 Harris
    January 12, 2015 at 11:51 am

    have written to the BBC and have signed the petition

  12. 12 Damion Willcock
    January 12, 2015 at 10:24 pm


  13. 13 Harris
    January 15, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Dear Harris,

    Thanks for your email which I have discussed with the producer of the programme.

    Although many people disagree strongly with estates shooting mountain hares, it is a legal activity and one that has been practised for many hundreds of years. Clearly there are concerns about the mountain hare population in Scotland, hence the new initiative from Scottish Natural Heritage, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Scottish Land and Estates to exercise “voluntary restraint”. It was in that context that we asked Adam Smith onto the programme.

    However, as you allude to, there are conservationists who believe that voluntary restraint is a weak measure which will do little to protect the mountain hare, and we’ll be hearing from one of those conservationists on this Saturday’s programme. I apologise that we didn’t make it clear after Adam Smith’s interview that we would be doing this.

    Mountain hare numbers is an issue that we have touched on a few times in the past 12 months and we do take care to represent all sides.

    Best wishes,

    Senior Producer
    Out of Doors, BBC Radio Scotland

    From: Harris Keillar [mailto:Harris@keillar.com]
    Sent: 12 January 2015 11:51
    To: Out of doors – General
    Subject: Mountain hares – adam Smith interview
    Importance: High

    Good morning

    I listened with some incredulity to Adam Smith of the GWCT yesterday about the mass killing of mountain hares by the land owning lobby. Why didn’t your interviewer pick up on why they were doing it – or even better, have someone else who could put the other side. I’ve seen photos of piles of mountain hares and I’ve also seen plenty snares on estates. I’m sure I heard him say something along the lines that they benefit from predator control – foxes, stoats and eagles?? This is a landowning apologist admitting they kill eagles! This is headline news – it’s what they do, though usually they keep quiet. Could you please have a really hard-hitting report about how awful landowning killing of anything that is not a game bird is?

    Best wishes

    Harris Keillar MBA; FIRP; FCIPD;
    Keillar Resourcing Ltd

    Edinburgh Head Office
    24 York Place, EH1 3EP
    Tel: +44 (0)131 557 9668
    Mobile – +44 (0) 7779 048077
    Skype – harris.keillar

  14. 14 Colindonnelly
    June 13, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    on a wider point, maybe if the landrover tracks bulldozed on grouse-shooting estates weren’t exempt from the planning laws their so-called sport would b a little less tenable

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