Mountain hare massacres on Scottish grouse moors: no planned monitoring

Last month we blogged about a series of Parliamentary questions and answers about mountain hare massacres on Scottish grouse moors and how these unregulated culls are, in our opinion, in breach of EU conservation legislation (here).


Those Parliamentary questions had been lodged by Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell. Now Alison Johnstone, a fellow Scottish Greens MSP, has lodged some more and the Government’s response to those questions is, frankly, shocking.

Question S5W-00222. Date lodged: 25/5/2016:

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to establish a working group to help plan the future arrangements for sustainable management of mountain hares.

Answered by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham 3/6/2016:

Under the auspices of Scotland’s Moorland Forum (which represents a range of stakeholders involved in moorland management, including the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage) it has been agreed that guidance on the management of mountain hare be produced by a selected sub-group of specialists and representatives from relevant interest groups. The inaugural meeting of this sub-group took place on 23 May 2016.

The sub-group will produce and publish interim best practice guidance in the autumn. This interim guidance will be updated after the anticipated publication (in 2017) of the findings from a study being undertaken by the James Hutton Institute, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage into the most appropriate methods of assessing mountain hare numbers.

The outputs of the study will be used to standardise the method of establishing mountain hare density in conjunction with the promotion of more cooperative working between estates, thus facilitating better informed decisions on sustainable hare management at regional scale.

Question S5W-00223. Date lodged: 25/5/2016:

To ask the Scottish Government what level of estate compliance Scottish Natural Heritage has recorded in relation to its 2014 position statement, ‘SNH-GWCT-SLE position on large-scale culls of mountain hares to reduce louping ill‘.

Answered by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham 3/6/2016:

The position statement issued by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Scottish Land and Estates sets out a number of different recommendations relating to the management of mountain hares in Scotland. There are no formal arrangements for monitoring the extent to which the recommendations are being followed.

Question S5W-00224. Date lodged: 25/5/2016:

To ask the Scottish Government when SNH plans to require formal mountain hare cull returns from estates in order to inform future sustainable management practice for this species.

Answered by Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham 8/6/2016:

There are no current plans to require mountain hare bag returns.


So ‘best practice guidance’ is to be produced in the autumn by a sub-group of the Moorland Forum. We don’t yet know which organisations have representatives on that sub-group but we can take a guess. One of them is bound to be Scottish Land & Estates – that’s the group that repeatedly says, without any supportive evidence, that widespread and indiscriminate culls are not having a detrimental effect on mountain hare populations.

And will that ‘best practice guidance’ follow the recommendations made in a recent independent review on sustainable moorland management which was submitted to SNH’s Scientific Advisory Committee in October 2015? One of the main recommendations made in that review was that the case for widespread and intensive culling of mountain hares in the interests of louping-ill control has not been made (see here). That should, technically, put a stop to mountain hare massacres on grouse moors. Why hasn’t it?


And what, exactly, is the point of producing best practice guidelines anyway? The estates involved in mountain hare massacres are not obliged to adhere to these ‘guidelines’, and, as we can see from the Government’s responses to the two other Parliamentary questions, there are no formal arrangements for monitoring estate compliance and nor are there any plans to require these estates to submit figures on how many hares they’ve massacred each year.

Why is that? How difficult is it to actually monitor estate compliance? If it is so very difficult, there is no point whatsoever in producing best practice guidelines for an industry with a reputation for long-term criminality. Guidelines can be ignored without suffering a penalty. Legislation can, and often is, ignored by many in this industry but at least there’s the (very slim) possibility of a penalty if they’re caught at it.

And what possible reason is there not to ask for annual cull figures from each estate? Why isn’t the Government demanding these figures? Surely they are obliged to do so in accordance with their obligations under the EU Habitats Directive? It can’t be that difficult for the estates to produce these figures. After all, they claim their culls are already ‘done in accordance with best practice’ and are ‘informed and balanced’ (see here). If they can make such claims then presumably they’ve already got the evidence to back them up? If they haven’t got the evidence then these claims should be treated with the contempt they deserve. It’s just another propaganda exercise to deflect attention from what’s actually going on on those grouse moors.

Hares_Lecht_25Feb2016 (2) - Copy

The Scottish Government’s lack of critical evaluation of this situation, their willingness to ignore the findings of an independent review, and their unwillingness to take any meaningful steps to prevent the ongoing extensive and indiscriminate slaughter of this so-called protected species at the hands of grouse moor managers is nothing short of disgraceful.


26 Responses to “Mountain hare massacres on Scottish grouse moors: no planned monitoring”

  1. 1 against feudalism
    June 14, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Hmm, makes you wonder who is running the country, the estates, or the Scottish Government ?

    The estates have an obvious agenda, which is to have nothing on the hills, apart from grouse and deer, surely to god, everyone can see that.

  2. 2 Keith Brockie
    June 14, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Most Mountain Hares ‘culled’ by estates will be collected by game dealers, is there any way their records could be checked to get a handle on the numbers shot each year?

    • 3 Alan Johnson
      June 14, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      I think the recent evidence is that most of the “bag” is discarded in a disgraceful manner.

    • 4 Malcolm
      June 14, 2016 at 11:10 pm


      while some may sell to a game dealer ,others choose to dump them (mountain hare) on stink pits. (as one of the photographs shows)

      I am sure you aware that this is also the case with many other species, pheasant, brown hare, deer, geese etc etc

      Game dealer records would be helpful but are nor absolute.

      As per Alan J.

    • 5 Jack Snipe
      June 15, 2016 at 1:37 am

      Keith, that would be a massive task and not practical.

  3. 6 Alan Johnson
    June 14, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    The government responses reflect the standard across all sectors, whether it’s booze regulation, the pub licensing laws, banks or landed estates……….self-regulation will do, job sorted. Now, where was I?

  4. 7 Steve Jennings
    June 14, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Roseanna Cunningham towing the line already!

    • 8 Secret Squirrel
      June 14, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      She just says what her Civil Servants tell her, like all good Ministers. IMO any strategy that has SLE and GWCT as 2/3 of the parties is a joke anyway. SNH appear to be completely under the thrall of the Landowners, as the recent leaked documents suggest. They should be at least neutral in this, if not actively prompting conservation. Everything points to them being not fit for purpose

  5. 9 Chris Roberts
    June 14, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    The Hollyrood government is little better than Westminster with regard to the estates which, with reference to A F above, appear to be running the country.

  6. 10 Roderick Leslie
    June 14, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    I find these images shocking beyond belief. How anyone involved in this massacre can claim to be involved in ‘sport’ is beyond me. The Scottish hills seem to have fallen to ruthless neo-liberal economics every bit as much as the City which is, probably mindlessly, funding the people involved.

  7. June 14, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Totally agree with Roderick Leslie. This is absolutely shocking. How are they allowed to get away with this? How can they claim that the culls are not affecting the population if they are keeping no record of the numbers killed? This is just killing for killings sake and to keep all the land simply for grouse and deer, as stated above. Surely this is breaking the law in some way? I’m sorry I am not that knowledgeable about all this but it just seems to me there must be some way that action can be taken against these dispicable people! A protected species! Like badgers are protected in England until they want to kill them!

    • June 15, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      I join with Janet in her sentiments and also that as I don’t live in Scotland I lack the relevant knowledge.

      But I am trying to keep up, via this and Mark Avery’s site, with all this criminality being allowed to prosper in the British Isles.

      I brief our group and write on their behalf to the authorities on these matters.

      Should we now, using your report above, write to Roseanna Cunningham? Copy to anyone else?

  8. 13 Merlin
    June 14, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    It would be interesting to know how many employees of SNH are in the pockets of SLE, SNH are supposed to collect information and advice the government on the information it has received, on this subject 10 groups told SNH that mass mountain hare culls should not be allowed until further information on the population status of the hare could be obtained, SNH have totally ignored this information and allowed this to continue, when pictures appeared in the press a month or so back of a mass cull of mountain hares SLE demanded someone from SNH and CNPA show up to a meeting to collaborate their statements, who from a government advisory group went running? At what point will the government tell SNH to break off ties with SLE, In a recent survey on crime, 81 % of crime using poison took place on shooting estates, some owned by members of SLE, this is a very real problem, Is the SLE a front for organised crime if so should a government advisory group be seen to be taking advice from them, this is an industry that attracts millions of pounds of government subsidies, serious questions need asking about SNH

    • June 15, 2016 at 5:51 am

      There is a senior SNH executive called Roger Burton who seems to be pals with the SGA and Berk Burnie etc. He seems spend his time sympathizing with and calming down the foaming mouths down. But you never see any of them round here…. probably to rational.

  9. 15 Mr Greer Hart, senior
    June 14, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    I have been doing a bit of culling lately, in fact it was quite a blood sport! Being a fifty year supporter of animal welfare and conservation of species donor and activist, I felt that some of my money was not being effectively used to protect the poor harmless creatures, that are being treated as unterspecies. Indeed, I cannot help but feel that the slayers of Mountain Hares and other wildlife, are like the infamous Oscar Dirlewanger’s 36th Waffen-Grenadier Division, which had one of its components made up of gamekeepers, as they were expert in hunting down game, which to them was easily transferred to humans as prey! It seems to the growing humane thinking and wanting action part of our UK population, that the persecution of certain animals and birds on shooting estates, has amounted to a disgraceful holocaust. Indeed, a disgust is now arising over our wildlife conservantion organisations have employed, and are employing the services of gamekeepers to deal with “threats” to some endangered species. Such groups are not animal welfare in character, just preservers of icon species.

    My findings on contacting politicans in the past on issues of wildlife conservation, and on animal welfare cruelty with regard to livestock, I got either no reply of any worth, or some civil servant produced reassurance that the Government was considering some form of action. No real change has been experienced, and the same killing and abuse of animals and birds has continued, and even intensified in some glaring cases.

    What does Scotland not have as a front line in defending wildlife and other animals in general? First of all, we have a serious dichotomy which is confusing to the public. When a member of the caring publc phones the RSPB to get help for an injured bird, that person is told the RSPB does care for such creatures, and passes the buck to the SSPCA. What the UK/Scoland requires is a new in your face organisation that would build the size and determination, to lead the charge in finally bringing about the necessary change in our wildlife and animal welfare laws, that would forever eradicate the hooligans to pillage our countryside in the name of “sport” on a grandly excessive scale. That would mean ransacking our whole justice system and cleanse it of those who have made it easy for wildlife and animal abuse criminals to get off easily. Politicians would be hounded by strong local groups, who would insist on attention being paid to all issues affecting our natural environment. It is a disgrace that we have to rely on EU law on habitats and species protection, when we should be attentive enough to ensure all our politicians require to be educated on the necessity of making Scotland free of the old hegemony of shooting estates, and other areas of animal abuse. Thank God for the two members of the Green Party, who have kept up the harrying of the indifferent Scottish Parliament to the arrogant flaunting of the flunkies of the shooting estates, as seen with the photos of piles of Mountain Hares. All over the planet wildlife over the past decade has fallen by half in gross numbers. One of the factors in this Sixth Great Extinction process, is hunting and poaching internationally. If we cannot with the powerful individuals here, then how can we expect to win the battle to save the Great Apes, Elephants, Rhinos etc?


  10. 16 Jack Snipe
    June 15, 2016 at 2:26 am

    Not another bloody sub-group! I can sympathise fully with the anger felt by Greer Hart, an intelligent and caring individual who I know has spent most of his life campaigning for animal and social justice, but who now seems perilously close to losing his tether. I share your frustration, Greer. The problem that arises repeatedly, and we’re all guilty to some extent, is that we don’t ask the right questions or pursue appropriate goals. Greer Hart fantasises about a promised land, a sort of Valhalla where humans and wildlife co-exist in harmony and peace. He knows this will never be, but there’s no harm in dreaming. What we can do is create a society which cares for wildlife as a priority, which would mean sharing the resources of our land and waters with the species who have evolved along with us on this planet, not regarding them as some imaginary threat to our very existence, or get ridiculously worked up about a ‘seagull’ stealing an ice cream cone.

    The majority of grouse shooters I’ve dealt with have been overgrown public school boys who forgot to grow up, and live a cosseted existence in their big houses, with their flash cars and debutante daughters. Or even more importantly, their social links with similar minded, often arrogant, selfish and wealthy class-conscious set of friends and relatives – a world apart from that which most of us live in. They enjoy the power and status that grouse shooting affords, an Edwardian heyday scenario with servants laid on. To sum up, they represent a romantic anachronism.

    Unfortunately though, as we’ve all noticed, they do still hold considerable power and influence in this so-called democratic society. Even politicians elected by the common electorate hold them in awe, and that’s just where the problem begins. However if we persist in posing questions with flawed premises, we should fully expect the prevarication that follows, often by the setting up of the dreaded ‘sub-group.’ In this case we have SNH, charged in a democratic manner with the conservation of Scotland’s wildlife, sitting around a table outnumbered by organisations which are more interested in abusing this wildlife in the name of ‘sport.’ The Government pretends this is them being inclusive, bringing on board a range of ‘stakeholders.’ Unfortunately this can involve bringing together disparate groups who can never see eye to eye or achieve any meaningful compromise. So all that we’re left with is a continuing almighty mess. Ethics are virtually ignored.

    The particular terms of this sub-group are to come up with a “management strategy” to deal with the problem caused by Mountain Hares. What problem? They may be one factor in spreading disease, but is that necessarily significant? However, rather than investigating the seriousness of the factor, SNH and others are going to take that for granted and come up with a so-called sustainable solution to “the problem.” If there is any significance to the presence of large numbers of Mountain Hares, which I strongly doubt, it is yet another consequence of grouse moor management messing up the ecosystem. The rational and sane solution to this is to give up grouse shooting. To those who say grouse shooting and gamekeepers are vital to sustain the moors, there are plenty people nowadays with good alternative ideas as to how the uplands could be managed for the benefit of society and wildlife, without the negativity, environmental damage and animal cruelty involved in current management techniques.

    It is not a small minority of the populace who wish to see harmless creatures like Mountain Hares left alone and properly protected from persecution and cruelty. Civilisation is also on their side, and our politicians should take some lessons in ethics and come to terms with that fact. Compassion is the real key to resolving this ongoing dispute, at the same time paying attention to the scientific case. The grouse shooting people are not going to give in, and we have to be prepared to continue the fight. Vicarious liability and the temporary suspension of the general licence are only fairly minor steps towards our ultimate goal of ridding society of all this cruelty.

    • 17 AlanTwo
      June 15, 2016 at 10:22 am

      Outstanding, impassioned posts by Mr Greer Hart and Jack Snipe.
      I’ve been a scientist for virtually all my working life, so my first instinct is to look at the evidence, read the scientific papers, weigh up the various arguments and try to articulate reasoned conclusions, and
      I have nothing but admiration for the work of RPUK and Mark Avery. But the important area that I feel is not receiving enough attention is mobilising the hearts and minds of the great majority of people who would feel nothing but revulsion if they were aware of the reality behind the carefully polished image of blood sports. We need to look for ways to:
      1. Get the images and the information out to a wide audience who are not active and well-informed conservationists, but who would be sickened by what goes on.
      2. Present a positive vision of a countryside not dominated by deer stalking, grouse shooting and canned pheasant shooting. The potential is huge!
      3. Convince the wildlife NGOs that taking a lead on this could, if marketed skilfully, gain rather than lose them large numbers of members.
      Otherwise I fear we will remain a tiny minority, reduced to impotent rage.

      • 18 Les Wallace
        June 15, 2016 at 2:52 pm

        If the mainstream environmental organisations such as FoE and Greenpeace took this issue on board that would be a huge step forward, surely the scale of the problem warrants it? The organisation that has so far done most to highlight the ecological and conservation absurdities of DGS is the League Against Cruel Sports. It’s pretty bloody poor that an animal welfare org is taking the lead on this. This Saturday at the FoE Scotland AGM a motion will be submitted that it initiates an appeal fund to raise finance to start a campaign against the bad practices of the ‘sporting’ estates. Independently someone else submitted another motion saying that FoES needs to do more on conservation and sustainable land management, suggesting that its poor membership numbers are because its campaigning has become too narrow. My sentiments exactly, a very sad reflection on the environmental movement in Scotland that this isn’t a core issue, it should have been years ago. It would also be great of FoES, Scottish Green Party etc emailed their members directly and asked them to support Mark Avery’s petition, the LACS has done so on about four occasions now resulting in at least 7,000 signatures. If the others with bigger memberships did the same hitting the 100,000 target should be no problem.

      • 19 Marian
        June 15, 2016 at 4:22 pm

        You are right, Alan Two, and my compliments also to Mr. Greer Hart and Jack Snipe (again).

        Point 1 – Is there no well-disposed journalist in either England or Scotland who will report on these crimes in such a way that the general public cannot ignore what is being done to mountain hares, raptors and other wildlife?

        However, I doubt that this would be enough. The press quite often features the horrors of intensive animal agriculture, but people still carry on supporting it.

        They feature the futile inhumanity of zoos, but people still take their kids there.

        I shall stop now – impotent rage is taking over.

      • 20 Prunella
        June 15, 2016 at 6:47 pm

        This is entirely right. And unless we make a BIG public fuss, the public administrators will continue to be helpless to guide the politicians towards a sustainable future, to which they seem more inclined than at any time in the last fifty years. Simply sounding off on this blog about the current Scottish Government is a complete waste of time.

        • 21 AlanTwo
          June 16, 2016 at 9:43 am

          My impression (second-hand – via my kids) is that social media can be hugely effective in spreading information that carries an emotional punch, especially if it relates to the abuse of animals. There must be people out there with the necessary skills, if we can only harness them.

  11. 22 J. Coogan
    June 15, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Months ago I sent a letter to my MP (J Swinney) highlighting the litany of suspected wildlife crime in the CNP. I eventually received a reply and it was very supportive stating that he would take the concerns to the environment minister blah blah . Now this , the SNP are the worst bunch of populists I have even encountered , and like all politicians you cant believe a word they say . They are petrified grasp the thistle and deal with these estates.

  12. June 16, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    It is time for a judicial review of the Scottish Government’s abject failure to adopt a robust stance against the mass killing of mountain hares in breach of EU Habitats Directive 1992. Costs can be minimised by someone acting as litigant in person with support in court of a McKenzie friend. Anyone up there in Scotland prepared to take this up, or can I do it from here in Devon? Obviously, alot of homework would be required. Meanwhile, just pray for a Remain outcome next week.

    • June 16, 2016 at 5:18 pm

      Thanks for this idea, Rodney – hope it can be done.

      And yes, we do need to stay in the EU, because the UK gov. is most definitely not interested in wildlife or the environment and has to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything.

  13. July 30, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    are0s – at the same time that Magnus Magnusson was appointed Chairman. This was engineered by the big landowners and Tory peers who represented landowning interests, because of the furore over SNH ‘interfering’ with the conifer planting/ tax avoidance schemes that were destroying the Flow Country up in Caithness and Sutherland. It was decided to ‘completely castrate and neuter’ the so-called ‘Wildlife Conservation Agencies’. At the same time, they threw lots of cash at SNH, so its budget increased from £4 million a year to £40 million a year – with people on massive salaries that were previously undreamed of in the world of the old NCC. Once someone is earning £50,000 – £80,000 a year, he/ she is not disposed to ‘rock the boat’ as far as upsetting government and the powerful farming/ shooting/ forestry lobby. So we have the ‘illusion’ of a nature conservation agency – but one which has no powers whatever. It merely ‘advises’ government – and government does whatever the most powerful lobby/ vested interest tells it to do. The shooting lobby is worth hundreds of millions – some people say several £billions a year; nature is a long way down the list when money like that is involved.

    • July 30, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Sorry – there was an error posting the above comment. First sentence was lost . . . it should read: borderglider
      July 30, 2016 at 3:39 pm
      Many people are unaware that the former Nature Conservancy Council Scotland (now SNH) was effectively castrated and neutered by taking away all and any Statutory Powers, which it had formerly had rights to enforce Nature Conservation legislation. This was at the time that Magnus Magnusson was appointed Chairman – brought in to be the ‘friendly face’ of Nature Conservation in Scotland. From the late 1980s SNH became a purely ‘advisory body’. This was engineered by the big landowners and Tory peers who represented landowning interests, because of the furore over SNH ‘interfering’ with the conifer planting/ tax avoidance schemes that were destroying the Flow Country up in Caithness and Sutherland. It was decided to ‘completely castrate and neuter’ the so-called ‘Wildlife Conservation Agencies’. At the same time, they threw lots of cash at SNH, so its budget increased from £4 million a year to £40 million a year – with people on salaries that were previously undreamed of in the world of the old NCC. Once someone is earning £50,000 – £80,000 a year, he/ she is not disposed to ‘rock the boat’ as far as upsetting government and the powerful farming/ shooting/ forestry lobby. So we have the ‘illusion’ of a nature conservation agency – but one which has no powers whatever. It merely ‘advises’ government – and government does whatever the most powerful lobby/ vested interest tells it to do. The shooting lobby is worth hundreds of millions – some people say several £billions a year; nature is a long way down the list when money like that is involved.


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