Posts Tagged ‘mountain hare


Gamekeepers invite First Minister to visit estates where mass slaughter of mountain hares takes place

Scottish gamekeepers have invited First Minister Nicola Sturgeon & Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to visit estates “to learn about mountain hare culls”.

The invitation comes after the First Minister’s angry response to recent video evidence showing the brutal, military-style killing of mountain hares undertaken by gamekeepers on several Scottish grouse moors and filmed by OneKind, Lush & the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) in February this year. Ms Sturgeon commented in Parliament that this mass killing was “not acceptable”.

Here’s the footage for those who missed it:

Presumably the invitation isn’t for the First Minister & the Cabinet Secretary to take part in a hare cull, or perhaps it is? Perhaps the gamekeepers envisage the pair kitted out in tweeds, riding on a quad bike across the moor, blasting hares in the face and legs with a shotgun, all in the name of ‘sport’ and ‘conservation’? Perhaps then they could go on to visit a stink pit to toss in the bloodied corpses on top of the pile of festering bodies already dumped there, with just enough time to set a few snares and batter to death a few cagefuls of trapped corvids before heading back to the big hoose for tea. How could they refuse such an invitation?

Here’s the press release from the gamekeepers:


Gamekeepers have invited the First Minister to visit their estates to find out about mountain hare management after she warned filmed culls were “not acceptable”.

Nicola Sturgeon said she was “angry” at footage filmed by animal rights charities which showed the animals being killed on shooting estates.

She warned large-scale mass culls could put the conservation status of the species at risk and said legislation to protect the hares is among options being considered by government.

Currently, landowners operate a voluntary restraint agreement regarding numbers culled.

Now, gamekeepers shown in the footage have written to the First Minister and Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to invite them to their estates to learn more about the rationale behind the killings.

Head gamekeeper for the Clune and Corrybrough Estates in Inverness-shire, Duncan MacKenzie, said: “We’d really like to be able to show the First Minister around rather than discuss these issues in Edinburgh.

I think it would be beneficial for everyone to get an understanding of why the hares need to be managed, here.”

He said the footage filmed by OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports and Lush showed “working people being secretly filmed carrying out a legal management activity which is no different to other forms of species management and is well within the laws passed by Scottish Government“.

The ironic thing is that those who are seeking the end of grouse management would also be signalling the beginning of the end for the mountain hare in Scotland,” he added.

Populations are thriving on grouse moors but are struggling badly elsewhere due to predation and loss of their preferred heather habitat and we hope to have the opportunity to explain this in full to the First Minister.”

Mr MacKenzie said the estates are not hiding anything, adding: “We have good records of the amount of hares in comparison to the amount we have taken off the hill, covering a number of years, and there are still high numbers of hares on the ground.”

The animal rights charities behind the footage claim it shows the agreement for voluntary restraint over culls has “failed” and along with broadcaster Chris Packham are calling for a cull ban until a review on the issue concludes.


And here’s a press release in response from RSPB Scotland:


In response to an invitation to the First Minister by gamekeepers to find out about mountain hare culls RSPB Scotland’s James Reynolds said: “If the First Minister is minded to accept this invitation she will of course also wish to visit and observe land of a similar nature, but managed more sustainably. A good example is the Cairngorms Connect project, which is being supported by The Scottish Government’s own Cairngorms National Park Authority – where multiple stakeholders involving the state, charities and the private sector are co-operating in partnership to deliver habitat restoration at a landscape scale for the benefit of local communities, local economy and Scottish environment.

RSPB Scotland is delighted that the current Scottish Government grouse moor enquiry is addressing the issue of unsustainable mountain hare culls, and undertaking an economic comparison of intensive management versus alternative models; we are sure the First Minister will also wish to give her full support to this initiative by her Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP.

The notion that the survival of mountain hares is entirely dependent on intensive grouse moor management is of course absolute nonsense.  Mountain hares existed quite happily in balance with their natural habitat since the last ice age before intensive grouse moor management began in the Victorian era. They will do so again if given the chance to flourish without needless mass culls.”



Grouse moor management “treats nature with contempt”

Last week saw the widespread media broadcast of a film produced by Lush, OneKind and The League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) depicting the brutal, military-style mass killing of mountain hares on a number of Scottish grouse moors, filmed in February this year. For those who missed it, here it is again:

Inevitably, public outrage ensued and resulted in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stating in the Scottish Parliament that these culls are “not acceptable” (see here).

The fall-out continued yesterday with an article by Jim Crumley in The Courier, who wrote about how grouse moor management “treats nature with contempt“.

It’s a brilliant piece, taking apart word by word what he calls an “ill-advised response” to the film from the Scottish Moorland Group’s Director, Tim (Kim) Baynes.

It’s well worth a read, from a journalist who frequently hits the nail on the head when describing the grouse-shooting industry – he’s previously referred to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association as “the UKip of the natural world” (here) and has described sporting estates as “a rural perversion” (here).

In case the article disappears, we’ve produced it below. It’s also worth reading one of the Reader’s Letters, by David Mitchell, (here).


By Jim Crumley (published in The Courier, 3 April 2018)

The reputation of Scotland’s landowners took another hefty blow in the solar plexus in the seven days since I made the case for legislation to protect the red fox from the worst excesses of what passes for land management, after a protest outside the Scottish Parliament about abuse of foxhunting legislation.

This time, it was film of a “cull” of mountain hares so militaristic in its strategy and so devastating in the scale of its slaughter that it would not have looked out of place in a newsreel clip from Syria.

The First Minister, who was suitably horrified like the rest of us – most of the rest of us, of which more anon – said the Scottish Government would explore “all available options to prevent mass culls of mountain hares and one of those options is legislation and a licensing scheme”.

Good. Please do it very, very quickly.

Because as the delay in implementing legal protection for the Tayside beavers demonstrates on a regular basis, the legal vacuum is being filled by men with guns and traps to kill as many as possible in the shortest possible time, and heavy machinery to wreck their dams and lodges.

Just when you thought things could hardly get any worse for the landowning fraternity, widespread screening of the film on television news and online was followed by an ill-advised response to the film by the director of the Scottish Moorland Group.

And just in case you thought the Scottish Moorland Group was a balanced, multi-interest coalition including community associations and nature conservation professionals, membership comprises the chairmen of seven regional groups of moorland owners and managers, and representatives from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. This is a hardcore self-interest group.

So what its director said was this:

This footage has been filmed by animal rights activists who actively campaign against this type of land management and have no interest in managing the balance of species and habitat on Scotland’s heather moor.

Mountain hare management is not only legal but necessary…”

Let’s go through that bit by bit. Firstly, it really doesn’t matter if the footage has been filmed by animal rights activists, the SWI or the Tufty Club.

The fact is that it exists and it is a film of slaughter that demonstrably treats nature with contempt.

Secondly, when it comes to criticising the activists’ level of interest in managing the balance of species and habitat on Scotland’s heather moors, the director is taking the art of pots calling kettles black to previously unplumbed depths.

There is nothing – nothing at all – in the entire repertoire of the landscapes of Scotland that is more hideously imbalanced in its relationship between species and habitat than a grouse moor.

Grouse moors are denuded of natural vegetation other than heather, which is routinely burned and manipulated so that – in theory at least – the moors produce the required harvest of grouse.

[An east Highlands grouse moor, photo by Chris Townsend]

And let’s not be deluded by the industry into thinking that the grouse is treated as anything other than a crop, a crop to be harvested at great expense by rich people with guns. And instead of spraying the crop, the grouse is fed medicated grit.

That is what Scottish moorland management amounts to. Anything that gets in the way of that ambition – anything at all from hares and foxes to eagles and harriers – is the enemy, and is treated as such.

The hare’s problem is not that it savages grouse or eats their eggs (it’s a vegetarian), but rather that it carries a tick, and some people think that increases the presence of the tick in grouse.

There is no evidence to suggest an abundance of hares is bad for grouse numbers, but there is such enthusiasm on estates for shooting hares by the truckload that they do it anyway.

The American wildlife writer and artist David M. Carroll, wrote in his book, Swampwalker’s Journal:

“The term ‘wildlife management’, often used in environmental polemics of the day in reference to human manipulations, is an oxymoron. We should have learned long ago to simply leave the proper space, to respectfully withdraw, and let wildlife manage wildlife.”

In Scotland, the Victorians ushered in new perversions and depravities in the matter of “wildlife management”, but evidence of the chill hand they brought to bear on nature still pervades the air in the 21st Century, still poisons the land with its prejudices, and still calls it wildlife management.

And to return to the SMG director’s response to the hare cull – no, mountain hare management may be legal for the moment, but it is most certainly not necessary.

For thousands of years before the Victorians lost the plot, there were widespread and healthy populations of both mountain hares and red grouse. There just weren’t any grouse moors.



Brutal, military style mass killing of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors

Press release from OneKind / League Against Cruel Sports / Lush (29/3/18):


Extraordinary footage from an investigation carried out by OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports and Lush has revealed the brutal, military style mass killing of Scotland’s mountain hares on grouse moors. Campaigners supported by Chris Packham are calling on the Scottish Government to take immediate action and end the killing.

Mountain hare shooting is one of many country sports offered by Scottish game estates, and grouse moor managers also organise culls of the animals in an effort to protect red grouse for sport shooting. Mass killing of mountain hares is just one part of the intensification of grouse moor management in Scotland.

OneKind Director Harry Huyton said:

Our investigation has revealed that instead of restraining themselves, as the Scottish Government has asked them to do, some estates seem to be at war with mountain hares. We filmed large groups of armed men moving around the mountains in convoys, killing hares and filling their pick-ups with dead animals as they go. In one particularly harrowing scene a hare is maimed by a gun and then apparently killed by the gunman’s dog, demonstrating the serious suffering caused by themass killing of hares on grouse moors.

These extraordinary scenes of carnage have no place in the Scottish countryside. The voluntary approach has failed, and the Scottish Government must take urgent action if it is to prevent further killing before the open season starts once again in August. We have written an open letter calling for an end to the killing, and I urge everyone who values our wildlife alive rather than dead to sign it“.

Ruth Peacey, naturalist and filmmaker for Lush said: “We knew this was taking place and, although horrific to witness, it was important to gain video footage of these culls to provide evidence to those who doubted. It was the military approach to killing that shocked our team the most, and I hope that all the footage will be used to bring about changes to provide better protection for mountain hares and stop these large-scale culls“.

Chris Packham, conservationist, naturalist and TV presenter said: “It is clear that self-restraint is not preventing large-scale culls of mountain hares on grouse moors and, as such, the law should be changed before we lose another iconic species from our uplands“.

Director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, Robbie Marsland added: “The sickening irony of the mayhem we saw on those mountainsides is that it is done in the hope that it will increase the number of red grouse to be shot for entertainment.

Mass killing of mountain hares is just one part of the intensification of grouse moor management in Scotland. Any animal that appears to threaten the red grouse is targeted by traps and snares or shot. Threatened species like hen harriers are mysteriously absent from some grouse moors. Unplanned tracks and roads scar the hillsides, anti-worming chemicals are left unattended, lead shot pollutes the land and heather is burned off on a landscape scale – all to ensure that one species will thrive. And then that species is shot for entertainment.

No one seems to be quite sure, but it looks like getting on for up to 19% of Scotland is a grouse moor. In the context of a national debate about land reform we believe now is the time to ask if this is how we want our land to be used“.

Mountain hare killing is not monitored in Scotland, however an estimate from an SNH study suggests that 25,000 mountain hares were killed in 2006/7. This is understood to be between 5-14% of the total population. It is thought that approximately 40% of those killed are shot for sport shooting, and 50% as part of organised culls.

The charities are calling on the Scottish Government to impose an all-year round close season on hare shooting until a review by Professor Werrity on the issue concludes.


Read and sign OneKind’s open letter calling for an end to the mass killing of mountain hares here

In response to this new footage, a Scottish Government spokesperson has said they are “seeking urgent meetings with relevant stakeholders, while considering all available options for additional protections“.

It’s not clear what the Government hopes to achieve by conducting “urgent meetings”. The grouse moor owners don’t see there’s a problem and as long as the mass culling of hares continues to be a legal pastime, they are obviously going to continue to tell everyone the best way to conserve mountain hares is to shoot them in the face.

However, the following conversation has just taken place in the Scottish Parliament:

Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens):

New footage of the sickening slaughter of mountain hares is reported by the BBC today. Has the fact that this evidence comes from well regarded animal welfare groups finally convinced the Scottish government that voluntary restraint is sadly lacking on too many shooting estates. When and with whom will the urgent meetings that the government now seeks take place and when will the Scottish government introduce new legal protection for this fabulous, iconic animal?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon:

I share Alison Johnstone’s concern and anger because its evident in her voice that some of the images that we’re seeing on our screens today there is real public concern and we share the public concern about this iconic species on the Scottish mountains.

Large-scale culling of mountain hares could put the conservation status at risk and that is clearly unacceptable.

I know that the pictures that she refers to will be distressing to many people.

These meetings will take place with all relevant stakeholders, landowner groups, gamekeepers and environmental organisations.

I want to be very clear today that the Government will be exploring all available options to prevent the mass culling of mountain hares and one of those options is of course legislation and a licencing scheme

What we are seeing is not acceptable and that is a very clear message that goes from the government today”.



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?



Parliamentary questions on Scottish Government’s grouse moor management review

Following the announcement on 24 November 2017 that the Scottish Government’s Grouse Moor Management Review Group had been formed (see here), a couple of Parliamentary questions have recently been lodged about how this group will function:

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.

Expected answer date: 6/2/2018

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.

Expected answer date: 6/2/2018

Colin Smyth has also lodged another Parliamentary question, related to those above, which is pertinent to this week’s media attention on mountain hare culls on driven grouse moors:

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.

Expected answer date: 6/2/2018

For those who missed it, mountain hare culling featured on Countryfile on Sunday evening (28th Jan), where they filmed a cull on a grouse moor in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. The programme is available on BBC iPlayer here for 27 days. The name of the estate wasn’t given but there were gamekeepers from Edinglassie Estate and Candacraig Estate. Whoever advised the Grampian Moorland Group that it would be a good idea (presumably to get the public onside) to showcase gamekeepers shooting mountain hares in the face made a big PR blunder. There was a huge backlash on social media and also in the national press (e.g. Daily Mail article here).

The programme also peddled the usual propaganda from the grouse shooting industry, claiming that all the shot hares would be sold for meat, which one of the gamekeepers claimed ‘showed the respect gamekeepers have for hares both in life and death’.

That’s not quite true though, is it? Here’s a pile of shot mountain hares, left to putrefy in a rotting heap on an Angus Glens grouse moor:

Harry Huyton (Director, OneKind) also featured in the programme to give an opposing view on mountain hare culling. He did a good job, and he’s also written an interesting blog about it (here).

The Countryfile episode was designed to coincide with the publication of a new SNH study which examined different methods of counting mountain hares. One of the fundamental arguments against the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors (apart from the questionable ethics) has been the issue of nobody knowing the status of the mountain hare population and thus the unknown impact these culls are having on the species’ conservation status (although we understand a forthcoming scientific paper, not yet published, will demolish the grouse shooting industry’s claims that the culls have no negative impact). The results of the new SNH study on mountain hare counting methods  can be read here.

UPDATE 13 February 2018: News on Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review & mountain hare culling (here)


Another Parliamentary question on conservation status of mountain hares

Last week we discovered that SNH had reported to the EU Commission in 2013 that the mountain hare was in ‘Favourable Conservation Status’ (see here).

This startling revelation was revealed after a Parliamentary question from Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone. We wanted to know more detail about how SNH had made its assessment, and it seems we’re not the only ones. Alison has submitted a further Parliamentary question, as follows:

Question S5W-12001: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 13/10/2017

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the 2007 assessment regarding an ‘unfavourable/inadequate’ status, for what reason its 2013 Article 17 Habitats Regulations report to the EU Commission assessed the mountain hare population as “favourable”, and whether it will provide a breakdown of the (a) criteria it used and (b) the evidence it received.

Expected answer date 10/11/2017

Kudos to Alison Johnstone MSP!

The grouse-shooting industry has previously said that large scale culls no longer take place. Photographic evidence from the Cairngorms National Park in 2016 suggests otherwise.


Grouse moors are “centres of excellence” for mountain hares, claims deluded industry rep

You’ve got to hand it to Tim (Kim) Baynes, spokesman for the Scottish Moorland Group / Scottish Land & Estates / Gift of Grouse, his ability to spin even the worst of the grouse-shooting industry’s excesses is becoming legendary (e.g. see here, here, here). He’d probably even give Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) a run for her money in the propaganda game.

In his latest offering, Tim (Kim) argues that managed grouse moors should be seen as a “Centre of Excellence” for mountain hares!

That’ll be the intensively-managed grouse moors that slaughter hundreds, no, thousands of so-called protected mountain hares, just to protect a ridiculously and artificially high number of red grouse which will later be used as live targets, shot for ‘sport’.

Here’s a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for mountain hares, photographed on an Angus Glens estate:

This “Centre of Excellence” nonsense is included in Tim’s (Kim’s) response to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee which is seeking stakeholder commentary on OneKind’s recent petition calling for greater protection of mountain hares.

Here’s Tim’s (Kim’s) submission, on behalf of the Scottish Moorland Group:

 Scottish Land & Estates_Petition PE1664_mountain hare_response

There are other gems within his submission, including an argument that from an animal welfare perspective, the culling of mountain hares is “not fundamentally different” to culling deer. Quite how he reaches this conclusion is a bit of a mystery – aren’t deer carefully stalked for hours and hours, with the shooting party quietly creeping up on a single deer to get close enough for a clean rifle shot without the deer knowing anything about it? Not sure how that equates with hundreds of mountain hares being forced to run uphill, probably terrified and racing for their lives, only to be shot in the face by a line of shotgun-toting ‘sportsmen’ when they reach the top.

As usual, Tim (Kim) misses the whole point of the argument, which isn’t necessarily about whether mountain hares should be managed, but is about the questionable sustainability of large-scale culls on intensively managed driven grouse moors. Nobody disputes that mounatin hares can do very well on these grouse moors – of course they do well, all their natural predators have been removed! But there’s no way that gamekeepers can know the impact of these large culls on the wider mountain hare population, despite Tim’s (Kim’s) unsupported claim that they can, and despite his unsupported claim that “estates have operated voluntary restraint for a long time”.

Nobody knows what impacts these culls are having because there isn’t yet an effective and approved counting method for estimating mountain hare abundance, although Dr Adam Watson’s long-term scientific research on mountain hare abundance on grouse moors in north east Scotland suggests there have been significant declines (his research is due to be submitted for peer-review publication shortly, we understand).

There is currently no requirement for gamekeepers to conduct counts either before or after these culls take place, and no requirement for cull returns to be submitted to SNH, even though SNH has a statutory duty to ensure that any management of this species is undertaken sustainably! At the moment, SNH is relying upon the word of the grouse-shooting industry to assess sustainability, which is astonishing given what is known about the industry’s untrustworthiness on other conservation issues.

Here’s a topical drawing sent in this week by Mr Carbo:

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