News on Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review & mountain hare culling

In January we blogged about a number of Parliamentary questions lodged by Colin Smyth MSP relating to the Government’s grouse moor management review group and mountain hare culling.

Written responses are as follows:

S5W-14019: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government, further to its announcement on 24 November 2017, what progress has been made by the independent group for ensuring grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant; what the remit of the group is, and what timetable it is working to.

Roseanna Cunningham: The review group has now been established and it met for the first time on 16 January 2018.

The group’s remit is to examine how to ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy while being environmentally sustainable and compliant with the law. The group will recommend options for regulation, which could include licensing, and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation.

The Scottish Government may also refer specific topics to the group that might be considered by it as part of its work.

The group will report to me in Spring 2019.

S5W-14020: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government, further to its announcement on 24 November 2017, what plans are in place to engage (a) stakeholders and (b) the public in the work of the independent group for ensuring grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant.

Roseanna Cunningham: During the review process, the group will engage with, and take advice from, external stakeholders as and when necessary.

A public consultation process may be required following the completion of the review, if any regulatory changes are proposed by the Scottish Government in light of recommendations made by the group.

S5W-14021: Colin Smyth (Scottish Labour, South Scotland) Date lodged: 23/1/2018

To ask the Scottish Government what efforts it has made to prevent large-scale culls of mountain hares this winter.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government opposes large-scale culls of mountain hares. There is no current evidence to indicate that large scale culls are taking place but if evidence emerges that points to large-scale culls taking place that could cause significant population declines, locally or nationally, the Scottish Government will consider bringing forward further measures to protect mountain hares. This could include the use of Nature Conservation Orders or giving mountain hares further protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Recent analyses of available data by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) provides no evidence of a national decline in mountain hares. Data from the North East of Scotland suggests there may be local population declines but these are not reflected at a national scale.

On 26 January, SNH published a commissioned report onDeveloping a counting methodology for mountain hares (Lepus timidus) in Scotland’.

Adoption of the recommended counting methodology by land managers will help in developing a better understanding of mountain hare population cycles and trends.


On this last question, contrary to what the Scottish Government claims, there is evidence that large scale culls are still taking place (e.g. see this 2017 report from OneKind). Just last week more culling was reported from the Monadhliaths and Aberdeenshire:

For how much longer will the Scottish Government continue to turn a blind eye to this obscene bloodbath taking place on grouse moors across the country?



12 Responses to “News on Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review & mountain hare culling”

  1. 1 Wildlife warrior
    February 13, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    Just when you think things are improving the government comes out with this utter inane guff

  2. February 13, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    Contrary to Wildlife Warrior, I think the responses are encouraging, overall – certianly far better than anything you would get from Westminster! On the subject of mountain hare culls, I’m afraiod that the question was poorly-phrased. The phrase “large-scale” is open to any interpretation. Over a large area? or involving a large number of animals? Or even involving a large number of people (but not necessarily killing many hares)? The two examples from last week don’t offer any clarity on this at all.

  3. 3 lizzybusy
    February 13, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    How about they tighten the current legislation to include shooting and snaring….

    Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, S43 Prohibition of certain methods of capturing or killing wild animals

    S43.—(1) This regulation applies in relation to the capturing or killing of a wild animal—

    (a) of any of the species listed in Schedule 4 (which lists those species listed in Annex V(a) to the Habitats Directive, and to which Article 15 of that Directive applies, which have a natural range which includes any area of Great Britain); or
    (b) of a European protected species listed in Schedule 2, where the capturing or killing of such animals is permitted in accordance with these Regulations.

    (2) It is an offence to use for the purpose of capturing or killing any such wild animal—

    (c) any other means of capturing or killing which is indiscriminate and capable of causing the local disappearance of, or serious disturbance to, a population of any species of animal listed in Schedule 4 or any European protected species of animal (listed in Schedule 2).

    (3) The prohibited means of capturing or killing mammals are—

    (j) traps which are non-selective according to their principle or their conditions of use;


    List includes
    Bats (all species)
    Cat, Wild Felis silvestris
    Otter, Common Lutra lutra


    List includes
    Hare, Mountain Lepus timidus
    Marten, Pine Martes martes
    Polecat Mustela putorius (otherwise known as Putorius putorius)

  4. 4 Iain Gibson
    February 13, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    “Adoption of the recommended counting methodology by land managers will help in developing a better understanding of mountain hare population cycles and trends.” Yet again a presumption remains inherent that mountain hares require culling. Otherwise why do land managers need this methodology? It’s the equivalent of the shooting lobby asking the Scottish Government (the latter being advised by SNH), “Can we kill mountain hares, please?”, and the reply being “How many would you like to shoot?” The legislation states that mountain hares are a game species and may be legally killed for sport and population control to protect forestry, moorland habitats, woodland regeneration and crops. The head gamekeeper interviewed on BBC Countryfile recently referred to “overgrazing and tree protection” as being the main reasons for culling hares, but anyone with the slightest clue to this animal’s biology knows that all of the justifications listed are feeble, insignificant and exaggerated for the purpose of deceit. The key word is “sport,” which I don’t recall being mentioned on Countryfile (perhaps I missed it). This whole fiasco is all about protecting the hunter’s right to kill mountain hares for the fun of it, and the consulted bodies are obviously determined to keep the question of total protection firmly off the table. I appreciate Roseanna Cunningham’s good intentions, but I honestly believe she is being duped on the need for control, and SNH as usual succumbs to pressure from landowners and the hunting business.

  5. 5 Peter
    February 13, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    So now do we have to wait for more than a year for some politician to decide when any report will be published, and then decide that nothing needs to be done. Looks like all talk and no action again.

  6. 6 BSA
    February 13, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    I doubt very much if Roseanna Cunningham has been duped and she is certainly not inane. She probably feels that scientific evidence for the scale and impact of mountain hare culls is, so far, insufficient to allow the successful introduction of what would be politically very controversial restrictions. She is probably right, but she also makes it clear that the Scottish Government opposes large scale culls which is a clear starting point in principle. It would be reasonable to assume that the pretty comprehensive remit of the grouse moor review group as listed here would include the mountain hare issue and would give the government some sound basis for action. You might hope that Lord Krebs would be looking for decent data as a start. The failure of half baked measures based on anecdote which is what many here seem (habitually) to wish for would hardly be progress.

    • 7 Iain Gibson
      February 14, 2018 at 7:49 am

      The problem lies not in the sufficiency of scientific evidence, but in the scoping of the contracted research. One of the unfortunate side effects of the commercial delivery of science is that the appointed consultant wishes to deliver results, and subconsciously perhaps in some circumstances, there is a bias towards delivering a compromise solution to please the client, not necessarily founded on science. Also, a hard objective inquiry does not tend to take conservation ethics into account, and my fear is that the outcome of the research, as currently scoped, will inevitably lead to a quota system which could very easily be abused by unscrupulous game interests.

      • February 14, 2018 at 10:11 am

        Iain, you may well be right. One very valid point to make – in my opinion – is that if raptors were “allowed” on grouse moors there wouldn’t be nearly so many mountain hares in the first place. In other words, a balanced system of predator-prey. What the gamekeepers don’t realise is that everything they do to maximise grouse numbers has an effect on everything else, which they then have to try to control, such as mountain hare numbers, “bulgy eye” etc. The owners of the moors probably understand that only too well and don’t give a damn.

  7. 9 Don Kirk
    February 14, 2018 at 1:50 am

    No one in power wants to act on the culls or the killings of Birds of prey. They do not want to upset the money men. I think my following limerick could soon be the status quo.

    On the moors where they pay to shoot Grouse,
    owned and run by estates without nous.
    There’s no Buzzard or Kite,
    no Harriers in flight.
    in fact no other wildlife but Grouse!

    Don Kirk

  8. February 15, 2018 at 10:38 am

    I had hoped that the committee would be given the room to explore the overall sustainability of grouse moors management. Looks like they are not being allowed the scope to ask real questions! It’s a stitched up sham.

  9. 11 Dave Dick
    February 15, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    The fact that “large scale culls”, however that’s interpreted, are still happening is worrying. I am sure that those estates which are dyed in the wool hare killers will be out there this year killing as many as they can before restrictions are imposed. Thats what happens if you have a year’s lead in time. There should be a complete moratorium on killing until this matter is decided [by yet more evidence talking/consultation]. From the government’s reply they have accepted the fact that this is not an urgent matter as far as grouse survival is concerned so why not call a halt right now?

  10. 12 Jim Craib
    February 16, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    The methodology developed by SNH for counting hares puts the counts outside the scope of the ordinary raptor worker as he/she goes about their monitoring because how many of us have time for dung counting methodically over a period of time and we are hardly likely to be out at night with lamps or nightsights.
    So it looks like casual hare counts by raptor workers even though we have the experience to be able to judge whether hare numbers are low or high will not be accepted by SNH or the Scottish Government in future.

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