Scot Gov says mountain hare has favourable conservation status – but on what evidence?

Last month, Alison Johnstone MSP lodged a series of parliamentary questions relating to the conservation status of mountain hares (see here), including this one:

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.

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

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. The Scottish Government has a legal obligation to report to the European Commission on the health of the mountain hare population.

The Scottish Government’s answer to Alison’s parliamentary question is surprising, to say the least:

So, although SNH (the Scottish Government’s statutory conservation advisor) 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), and given the on-going concerns about documented mountain hare declines (e.g. see here), the Scottish Government has told the European Commission that mountain hares have a favourable conservation status.

How on earth has SNH reached that conclusion?

What’s missing from this parliamentary answer is any of the required detail needed to understand SNH’s assessment of the mountain hare’s conservation status. For example, what criteria, exactly, did SNH use to assess each of the four parameters (range, population, habitat, and future prospect)? Presumably there’s a certain threshold that must be reached for each individual parameter before the mountain hare can be considered to be in ‘favourable conservation status’? What were those thresholds and what scientific evidence, exactly, did SNH use to determine whether those thresholds had been met?

The answers to Alison’s other parliamentary questions were as follows:


10 Responses to “Scot Gov says mountain hare has favourable conservation status – but on what evidence?”

  1. 1 michael gill
    October 11, 2017 at 10:48 am

    So in 2007 the Mountain Hare’s habitat was deemed “unfavourable- inadequate”. But just 6 years later, in 2013, the habitat was deemed “favourable”? What specifically had had changed? There certainly wasn’t any more habitat.

  2. 2 Iain Gibson
    October 11, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    It’s ridiculous to dismiss the problems facing mountain hares by simply assessing the alleged state of the habitat, when there is no accepted method of relating this to the numbers of hares themselves. As someone who has walked my local hills for the past fifty years, it is perfectly obvious to me (and I’m sure other naturalists) how simple it would be to devise some sort of basic monitoring programme. What I can say subjectively, but based loosely on an awareness of frequency of sightings, is that in my area (Clyde), numbers have crashed during the past twenty years. This coincided with the local gamekeepers resorting to an outright assault on the hare population when the so-called problem was highlighted. They culled them using a combination of guns and snares. On a typical day out harrier surveying in recent years, where I used to see maybe twenty or more hares, I’m now lucky to see one or two, despite grouse shooting having ended on the three estates over a decade ago. It worries me slightly that the scientists who currently specialise in surveying mountain hares, who SNH appear to regard as their best expert advisers, therefore likely to be contracted to come up with a methodology, have close ties with… the grouse shooting industry.

  3. October 11, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    The ‘lairds’ run the Scottish political circus thus they are bound to come to the conclusion which they did.

  4. October 11, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Bulls**t baffles brains would seem to be the philosophy in use by Scot-Gov. I shudder to think how much worse it will be post brexit.

  5. 5 nirofo
    October 11, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    They probably based their data on the number of hares shot in each area, data supplied via assessment of stink pit and days kill photos supplied by RPU web page, other sources would be via gamekeepers skilled in the recognition of wildlife quantities prior to shooting it. If plenty of hares were shot in each area then as far as SNH are concened that would mean the conservation status is ok. This is probably the best scientific method they used to assess the population status of mountain hares. Any other method would be deemed unnecessary and not cost effective.

    • 6 Lizzybusy
      October 14, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      This is an interesting piece from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.


      An FOI indicated that the only successful applications for licences to kill mountain hares out of the shooting season were from organisations/individuals seeking a cull to protect forestry saplings. The scale of those culls is horrific so quite how large the culls are in-season doesn’t bear thinking about. It does show, however, that, out of season, at least, gamekeepers are not responsible for the slaughter.

  6. 7 Pheasant beater
    October 11, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    Predictably the Scottish Governments answer wasn’t going to be one that conflicted with the shooting lairds wishes. The interests of conservation are way, way down the Scottish Governments priorities.

  7. October 12, 2017 at 12:04 am

    Again, like the Muirburn Code, the Hair Slaughter Code is being written by the people most likely to 1:-not want the code and 2:- most likely to ignore the code!

    I bet it is along the lines of…estimate what you want and shoot what you want, when you want.

  8. 9 J .Coogan
    October 12, 2017 at 11:15 am

    More evidence that the pressure must be kept up on this SNP government , they will backslide and kick issues into the long grass at every opportunity , they invariably take the path of least resistance,so letter write, email ,meet your MP in short be a real pain. If we don’t pull them up at every occasion they will back the status quo , the money ,the power, the landed gentry.

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