Conservation status of mountain hares: parliamentary questions lodged

As many of you will know, the mountain hare is listed on Annexe V of the EU Habitats Directive (1992), which requires member states to maintain this species in favourable conservation status.

As you’ll also know, the mountain hare is a legal quarry species in Scotland (during the open season of Aug-Feb) and is routinely culled on many grouse moors without any regulatory oversight. There have long been concerns about the sustainabilty of these large-scale culls and the grouse-shooting industry has been urged to undertake ‘voluntary restraint‘ – a pointless plea that so far seems to have been roundly ignored.

Dead mountain hares being transported on Farr Estate Feb 2017 (photo by Pete Walkden)

Earlier this year the charity OneKind published a summary report outlining many of the conservation and welfare concerns relating to the continued killing of this species (see here).

In May, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced that the issue of mountain hare culling would be addressed as part of her proposed review of grouse moor management (see here). We’ve yet to hear any more details about when this review might begin.

The Scottish Government has a legal obligation (under the Habitats Directive) to report to the EU on the health of the mountain hare population. Given that the Government has absolutely no idea what impact the mass culls have on the mountain hare population (because, unbelievably, there is no legal requirement for estates to provide cull return data to SNH outside the close season, and, there isn’t yet an agreed survey method for monitoring mountain hares), it would be interesting to know what SNH has been telling the EU.

Well, we’re about to find out thanks to a pertinent Parliamentary Question lodged by Alison Johnstone MSP:

Question S5W-11180: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scotish Green Party. Date lodged: 8/9/2017.

To ask the Scottish Government what reports it has made to the EU Commission in the last 10 years regarding the population status of mountain hares, and what summary conclusions these included regarding the species’ health.

Expected answer date: 26/9/2017.

We’ve previously blogged about this issue and have argued that we consider the current unregulated mass culling of mountain hares to be in breach of EU regulations (see here), mainly because in the absence of decent population data, it is impossible for SNH to assess whether the species is in favourable or unfavourable conservation status. So we’re very much looking forward to finding out if SNH has been telling the EU that Scotland’s mountain hare population is in favourable conservation status, and if so, on what evidence this claim has been made.

Alison has lodged two more related questions, also due to be answered on 26 Sept 2017:


To ask the Scottish Government, when it will publish its standardised counting method for mountain hare populations.


To ask the Scottish Government when Scotland’s Moorland Forum will publish its best practice guidance on the sustainable management of mountain hares, as part of the Principles of Moorland Management project.

Well done, and thanks, Alison.


14 Responses to “Conservation status of mountain hares: parliamentary questions lodged”

  1. 1 Les Wallace
    September 12, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Yes Alison is a good un along with Mark Ruskell and Andy Wightman. She and Andy came out for a quick word at the Hen Harrier Demo outside the Scottish Parliament on Friday. The Scottish Green Party just might be about to step up a gear against what the ‘sporting estates’ are doing.

  2. September 12, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Brilliant stuff Alison Johnstone. It is worth looking up her name in the RPUK search engine.
    She has been asking similar questions for at least 4 years.
    Champion of Ravens too!

  3. 3 Jeremy Walsh
    September 12, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Post Brexit, what becomes of our responsibilities under the Habitats Directive and other EU initiatives regarding wildlife and habitat conservation? Slightly alarming to consider, especially as so much is routinely flouted already.

  4. 4 Marco McGinty
    September 12, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    The Greens may be a small contingent at Holyrood, but they are very valuable, and not afraid to tackle the issues that most of us are concerned about.

    • 5 J .Coogan
      September 12, 2017 at 1:13 pm

      Absolutely, issues the SNP pay lip service to ,or totally body swerve. The Greens also have a consistent approach, the SNP are all over the place, eh Mr Ewing.

    • 7 Tony Warburton MBE
      September 12, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      Well done Alison and well done Steph too. It is of course a scandal but totally typical of the disdain from the Grouse Moor brigade. Wait for the ‘tick’ excuse! They kill Golden Eagles for killing their precious Grouse and by doing so ensure that the eagles have to find alternative food because their main food item is being reduced or eliminated. Very wildlife champions I must say!

      Jeremy, it will be up to us, the voters, to ensure that the Habitat and Birds Directives are included in the list of Laws which will be transferred into UK Law post Brexit. Contact your local MP to ensure this is on his or her agenda. Sadly I can’t say either of these EU laws have done much pre Brexit to protect either Hen Harriers, Buzzards, Peregrines, or the Short eared Owls and Eagle Owls my own organisation the World Owl Trust is fighting to protect in Bowland. We can only live in hope that things will change and maybe it is the Mountain Hare scandal which might get things moving at last.

      I end with my usual salute to RPUK. You are doing a great job in keeping us in the loop.

  5. 9 ICT
    September 12, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Well done Alison and well done the other members of the Green Party who are stepping up to the mark. The Scottish Government is too feirt of the landowning lairds. Their land reforms are pie in the sky.

  6. 10 Chris Dobson
    September 12, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    As I’m not a scientist or a bureaucrat, could someone confirm (or correct) my impression that the defra report is a joke?

  7. 12 Iain Gibson
    September 12, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    Well done Alison Johnstone MSP for kicking things off. However those of us fighting for protection of Mountain Hares will still have a difficult road ahead, especially as it seems likely that the Scottish Government will turn to the one scientist with a high profile for research on the species, who just happens to be in the pocket of the grouse shooting business. I won’t mention any names for legal reasons, but most of us can probably guess who that will be. I for one won’t be surprised if SNH adopts their usual facade of ‘impartiality’ and recommends the services of this potentially biased researcher.

  8. October 13, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I am nominating Alison Johnstone for the Lord Houghton Animal Award for her brilliant work on behalf of mountain hares which she has sustained for over four years.

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