Posts Tagged ‘mountain hare


Chris Packham in conversation with Alison Johnstone MSP

Yesterday evening Chris Packham was in conversation with Alison Johnstone MSP of the Scottish Greens, talking about the future of driven grouse shooting in Scotland.

This took place as part of the joint e-action campaign by Wild Justice, RSPB and Hen Harrier Action to encourage UK voters to contact their elected representatives principally about tackling the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors. Yesterday the total soared past 100,000 emails.

[Alison Johnstone MSP, photo via Scottish Greens]

This conversation between Chris and Alison is well worth a listen.

Here are some highlights:

Chris Packham:A 100,000 emails, Alison, what has this meant to elected representatives who’ve come in, opened their computer inbox and sat down and seen them?

Alison Johnstone:It’s left elected representatives like myself in no doubt whatsoever as to the strength of public feeling.

We know that people want action, they’re absolutely sick to the back teeth of hearing that another bird of prey has been persecuted. This afternoon I went in to my Parliamentary inbox and I would say every couple of minutes I’m receiving one of these emails.

In Parliament during the week, one of my colleagues said, ‘Oh, could you..’ (I would say not a Green colleague of course), one of my colleagues laughingly said, ‘Oh, could you not do anything to stop those emails coming in?’ And I said, ‘You know, I’d really like to claim credit for that fabulous campaign but that’s down to the RSPB, Wild Justice and Hen Harrier Action’. But there is no doubt at all the message is getting across loud and clear, so great work!

Incidentally, Alison’s colleague Mark Ruskell MSP tweeted this morning that he’d received ‘well over 500 emails’ from his own constituents on this topic:

Alison Johnstone: ‘I think the Scottish Government is beginning to understand now that this is actually a vote winner for them.

If they listened to what really concerns people in Scotland, the fact that they’ve received so many emails in recent days about the persecution of birds of prey, when you think about all the other challenges we’re currently facing with Covid 19 pandemic, with the potential of a looming no-deal Brexit, but people still want them to protect the environment, I think that says a lot‘.

The conversation, which also included issues such as the Werritty Review and Alison’s recent success at securing protection for mountain hares (here) but the Scottish Government’s subsequent ‘dragging of feet’ to enact it (here) can be watched in full below (if you can’t access it go to Chris’s social media pages to find the recording):

The e-action currently stands at over 117,000. It closes on tomorrow (Monday 31st Aug) at midnight. As Alison and other politicians have said, every single email counts so please consider joining in if you haven’t already – CLICK HERE.

Thank you


Protection for mountain hares kicked well & truly back in to long grass

Protection for mountain hares, slaughtered in their thousands on Scottish grouse moors (an estimated 26,000 each year), looks to be a long way off.

This is despite scientific evidence revealing catastrophic declines, despite the species’ unfavourable conservation status and despite the Scottish Parliament voting in June for full protection under the proposed Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act.

The Scottish Government is first insisting on undertaking a consultation with stakeholders to work out the details of how a licensing scheme will work, and has ignored the pleas of conservationists to bring in interim protection for mountain hares now that the open season for killing them has begun again (see here, here, here, here).

Instead, to the utter astonishment of the conservation community, as the hare-killing season opened on 1st August Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham asked the grouse shooting community to conduct voluntary restraint (see here) – an utterly futile and indeed facile request to an industry that has, for decades, proven itself incapable of self restraint.

[Shot mountain hares strung up in a chilling larder, screen-grabbed from a controversial feature on Countryfile (2018) showing mountain hares being shot on a Scottish grouse moor]

Meanwhile, a number of politicians have been putting pressure on the Scottish Government to pull its finger out and bring in measures to prevent the inevitable hare-killing sprees on grouse moors across the country, but Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon is trotting out the usual vague and non-committal responses we’ve come to expect from this Government.

For example, here are some pertinent Parliamentary questions from Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens) and Christine Grahame (SNP) and the Environment Minister’s responses:

Question S5W-30665: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party. Date lodged 13/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to commence section 10F of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act.

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (30/7/20):

The Scottish Government will set out its timetable for commencing all sections of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, including Section 10F, in due course.

Question S5W-30899: Christine Grahame, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, Scottish National Party. Date lodged: 23/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of mountain hare culling restarting on 1 August 2020, when the licensing scheme in compliance with the Animal and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 will be enforceable. 

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (10/8/20):

I refer the member to the answer to question S5W-30665 on 30 July 2020. All answers to written parliamentary questions are available on the Parliament’s website, the search facility for which can be found at xxxxxxxx.

Question S5W-30664: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party. Date lodged 13/7/20:

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it will put in place to prevent further mass culling of mountain hares when the mountain hare closed season ends on 1 August 2020.

Answered by Mairi Gougeon (10/8/20):

The Scottish Government has always been clear that any large-scale culling that threatens the conservation status of mountain hares is not acceptable. However, as I stated during the stage 3 debate in Parliament there are a number of issues that must be fully considered ahead of the introduction of a licensing regime. I am now giving careful thought as to how that regime will work and when the protection will come into force and I will be discussing that in detail with stakeholders over the coming months. We will be following the situation carefully for any indication of attempts to carry out excessive culls and will take steps to address this if necessary.

God this is tedious. ‘Over the coming months’ and ‘in due course’ and ‘we will take steps to address this if necessary’. These are holding statements designed to hide the fact that the issue is being kicked in to the long grass.

Do these phrases sound familiar? They should – these are the exact same lethargic, ambiguous phrases that have come to characterise the Scottish Government’s inaction over the ongoing and illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors.

So far this season there are no confirmed reports of mountain hares being culled on Scottish grouse moors (there were a couple of unconfirmed reports in early August but these proved to be unsubstantiated – see here). However, with the grouse-shooting season now open this isn’t the time when most hares are slaughtered. That bloodbath usually takes place in January and February, once the grouse-shooting season has ended, as depicted in this shocking video.

Can we expect to see more of the same this season?


Unconfirmed reports of mountain hare culls on several Scottish grouse moors

The season for killing mountain hares in Scotland opened on Saturday (1st August) despite a recent Parliamentary vote to provide more protection for this species.

In this particular case, greater protection (i.e. those who want to kill mountain hares will need to apply for a licence) will not be available until the Scottish Government has undertaken a consultation to consider the terms and conditions of any such licencing scheme.

Meanwhile, while everyone waits for the Scottish Government to conduct that consultation, the shooting season has opened and the Government has ignored campaigners’ pleas to offer interim protection to those mountain hares.

Instead, the Environment Cabinet Secretary has, with a straight face, called on the grouse-shooting industry to practice ‘voluntary restraint’ (see here).

So it came as no surprise to see a number of (as yet unconfirmed) reports on Twitter yesterday that mountain hare culling had begun, apparently on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths and a grouse moor in the Angus Glens.

Under the current legislation, these estates are entitled to kill as many mountain hares as they like, without needing permission or a licence, and there is no obligation for them to record or report the number of hares killed.

Nor is there any obligation to report what they do with those shot hares. Some will end up on sale for human consumption (complete with embedded toxic poisonous lead shot, yum yum), others will simply be discarded, and some will be used to bait traps and stink pits to lure other wildlife to a gruesome death.

[Shot mountain hares strung up in a chilling larder, screen-grabbed from a controversial feature on Countryfile (2018) showing mountain hares being shot on a Scottish grouse moor]

UPDATE August 2020: Neither of these unconfirmed reports have been substantiated and there is no evidence that mountain hares were being culled in the Monadhliaths or the Angus Glens at the beginning of August 2020.


Scottish Government fails to protect mountain hares as shooting season opens

Today marks the start of the open season for killing mountain hares in Scotland.

You may have thought that the Scottish Parliament recently voted to protect this species, bringing an end to the scenes of horrific mass slaughter on Scottish grouse moors and only allowing future killing to take place under licence in certain circumstances.

[Shot mountain hares strung up in a chilling larder, screen-grabbed from a controversial feature on Countryfile (2018) showing mountain hares being shot on a Scottish grouse moor]

Well, there was a vote, under the proposed Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, and Parliament did agree to provide full protection for the mountain hare (see here) but the Scottish Government is first insisting on undertaking a consultation before enacting the new legislation. This blog (here) by RSPB Scotland’s James Silvey and Duncan Orr-Ewing provides an excellent summary of the situation.

Since that vote, campaign groups have been urging the Scottish Government to bring in emergency interim measures to protect mountain hares whilst the consultation takes place (e.g. see here, here) but all to no avail.

You’re not going to believe what the Scottish Government published yesterday. Or perhaps you will. At the end of the week when it’s been deluged with letters of public outrage over the illegal poisoning of a sea eagle that was found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park (see here), the Scottish Government’s Environment team posted this on twitter:

Are they for real? A call for voluntary restraint? Are they having a laugh?

This is an industry whose failure to self-regulate is legendary. Some of its members continue to systematically kill birds of prey, despite it being illegal to do so for 66 years, they slaughter mountain hares by the thousands (an estimated 26,000 hares shot every year), and they even continued to set grouse moors alight during Covid19, despite calls to stop from their own industry leaders, which led to the Scottish Parliament enacting an emergency temporary ban (see here).

This is an industry out of control and with little to no regard for legislation. Why the bloody hell does the Scottish Government think the industry will comply with a plea for voluntary restraint now? Why would it, when it gets away with criminality time and time again? And asking now, when the corpse of that poisoned eagle is uppermost in everyone’s minds?

It’s back to that famous quote again:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results‘.

It’s become pretty clear that the grouse shooting industry aren’t the only ones out of control. The Scottish Government has been unable, no, make that unwilling, to take control of wildlife protection despite having the legislative power and a huge public mandate to do so.

UPDATE 5 August 2020: Unconfirmed reports of mountain hare culls on several Scottish grouse moors (here)

[Cartoon by Mr Carbo]


“It’s time Scotland took on landed interests over animal protections” says Alison Johnstone MSP

Last month the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly (see here) to provide full protected status for mountain hares, thus effectively ending the unregulated slaughter of ~26,000 hares on grouse moors every year.

However, hare-culling under licence will still be permitted under certain circumstances and the conflict over the protection of this species is far from over.

[Shot mountain hares strung up in a chilling larder, screen-grabbed from a controversial feature on Countryfile (2018) showing mountain hares being shot on a Scottish grouse moor]

In preparation for a more detailed blog in the run up to the opening of the hare-killing season this Saturday (1st August), have a read of this opinion piece written last month by Alison Johnstone MSP, whose amendment to the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections & Powers) (Scotland) Bill led to the [as yet to be implemented] increased protection for mountain hares.

This article is reproduced from The National (26 June 2020).

It’s time Scotland took on landed interests over animal protections

by Alison Johnstone MSP

THE response to mountain hares finally becoming a protected species in Scotland has been nothing less than astonishing.

After MSPs backed my amendment, thanks and congratulations came flooding in from across Scotland and around the world for winning vital protection for this iconic native species.

In parts of the Highlands, mountain hare populations have crashed since the 1950s, with an average of 26,000 killed every year, largely for fun and as part of mass killing on grouse moors. Last year their conservation status was downgraded to “unfavourable”.

Protecting these animals is the least we should do as a progressive country that values our wildlife and countryside, yet there has also been an astonishing response to this move from landed vested interests and the grouse shooting lobby, who have reacted with fury.

Gamekeepers claimed the vote in Parliament was “undemocratic” and threatened to set up their own political party, while the countryside alliance called into question my integrity, presumably because their only alternative is to defend the indefensible.

Preventing the slaughter of native wildlife in decline is perhaps the most basic act of conservation. Even under the highest level of wildlife protection available in Scotland, land managers could still apply for a licence to kill hares as a last resort, so the scale of response from the grouse shooting lobby is very revealing. It shows this is a community which is not used to being beaten. It demonstrates the power and influence they are used to having.

In December, the two-year review of Scotland’s grouse moors led by Professor Alan Werritty was published, but it brought absolutely nothing new to the table. It couldn’t even define what a grouse moor is, even though they cover around a fifth of Scotland’s land mass.

Incredibly, the Scottish Government has yet to respond to this watered-down review, which perhaps shows how unwilling the SNP is to take on this powerful lobby.

Last week, however, Scottish Government ministers came under incredible pressure after a Scottish Greens petition in support of hare protection garnered more than 25,000 signatures in just a few days. It was clear that public opinion does not align with the interests of those who enjoy shooting grouse on an industrial scale.

Although Parliament voted for an end to indiscriminate killing of mountain hares, the fight is not yet over. Shooting clubs have ominously warned our celebrations will be “short-lived”, and August will see the start of hare-killing season.

The RSPB and others have expressed concerns that these enthusiasts will use any delay in implementing the new restrictions to kill as many mountain hares as possible. There are already signs on social media that they are mobilising to do this.

They know this would be met with outrage, but this is a sector which has shown little interest for public concerns. The number of birds of prey which vanish around grouse moors is testament to that, which no doubt contributes to the lobby’s claim that mountain hares “thrive” on grouse moors. It is a circle of killing dressed up as conservation.

The fact muirburn continued into the pandemic lockdown and in dangerously dry conditions, despite the warnings of the fire service and Parliament backing my colleague Andy Wightman’s temporary ban, is another example of this industry’s disregard for wider community concerns and democratic process.

In accepting my amendment during the debate, natural environment minister Mairi Gougeon suggested the Scottish Government might delay implementation of this vital protection for mountain hares.

LIKE many, I’m really worried that this delay will only encourage an unprecedented killing spree by those who want one last hurrah. The ban must come in by August 1 and the Scottish Government need to issue a warning to these powerful vested interests that they must control themselves. They can’t always have their own way.

Grouse moors are left deliberately barren as a plaything for the very few. It’s ridiculous that so much of Scotland is taken up with this this mindlessly cruel Victorian hobby, when that land is needed to restore forests and peatland to tackle the climate emergency. Changing its use would also provide thousands of rural jobs at a time when unemployment is rising at an alarming rate.

Although mountain hare protection is a vital first step in tackling the problem of grouse moors, when we look back at last week’s animal and wildlife bill, it’s clear there is a long way to go for our Parliament to truly take on the powerful lobbyists who defend them.

For example, once again the SNP joined forces with the Conservatives to protect the rights of the shooting lobby to dock the tails of puppies. This practice involves cutting or crushing muscle, nerves and bones, without anaesthetic, in puppies under five days old. If done badly, it can cause the dog chronic pain throughout its life. Animal welfare experts are clear that there is no scientific basis for tail docking and the British Veterinary Association agree the practice should be banned in all circumstances except for treating an injury.

Our proposals to further protect badgers and beavers were also rejected. It’s time for Scotland to take on the powerful landed interests that hold back progress, for which animal protection is the front line.



Scottish Parliament votes to protect mountain hares

HUGE congratulations to Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone this evening after her amendment calling for protected status to be given to mountain hares (and thus effectively ending the slaughter of 26,000 on grouse moors every year) was passed, 60 votes for, 19 against.

[Photo by Steve Gardner]

Full credit to Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon for supporting the amendment.

More on this when the official report is published, and more on the finer details of the Animals & Wildlife Bill.

A lot of people have put in a massive effort on this issue over the years. For now, though, lets raise a glass to the late Professor Adam Watson whose meticulous five-decade research on the mountain hare has provided the evidence which finally led to this tangible and hard-fought-for conservation win.


Report of the meeting of Parliament, 17 June 2020 here: Report of meeting of Parliament 17June2020


Scottish gamekeepers desperate to keep slaughtering mountain hares on grouse moors

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has come out all guns blazing to try and prevent the Scottish Parliament from voting to protect the mountain hare in tomorrow’s debate on Stage 3 of the Animals and Wildlife Bill.

Scottish gamekeepers are terrified that they’ll no longer be able to enjoy what everyone else sees as a grotesque bloodbath.

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg has penned a typically deluded letter to MSPs in which he claims to be ‘a representative of the people of all of Scotland‘ (eh?) and how stopping the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors ‘will affect human beings’ lives’ (er…) and ‘worsen the conservation status of the mountain hare‘. Really?

Oh, and further justification for the slaughter is the protection of walkers, ramblers and mountain bikers from the perils of Lyme disease:

Of course, it’s not the first time the SGA has been accused of making ‘misleading’ and ‘greatly exaggerated’ claims’ about mountain hares (see here and here).

Meanwhile back on planet humanity, support is growing for MSP Alison Johnstone’s amendment to increase protection for the mountain hare that would effectively end the mass killing on grouse moors (see here and here).

The RSPB has published a good blog in support (here), as has animal welfare charity OneKind (here), and the signatures on the Scottish Green’s petition calling for support has now passed 12,000 in just a few days. If you’d like to sign it, please visit HERE.

Please keep writing to your MSPs – we know that mail bags have been inundated on this topic and it’ll be of great interest to see who votes in support of this amendment in tomorrow’s debate.



YOUR vote to end mass slaughter of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors

As you know, Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone has recently lodged an amendment to the Animals & Wildlife Bill, which would make mountain hares a protected species, effectively ending the mass slaughter on grouse moors (see earlier blog here).

An estimated 26,000 mountain hares are killed on grouse moors every year. Here’s one of them, shot and left to rot on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Photo by OneKind:

Alison’s amendment is due to be debated and then voted upon by the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 17 June 2020.

There has been a LOT of activity on social media since the amendment was announced, with many constituents contacting their MSPs and asking for an indication of how they intend to vote on this issue.

As a further demonstration of public support for the amendment, the Scottish Greens have launched a public petition where YOU can have your say. It has gathered over 7,000 votes in the last two days. If you’d like to sign it, please click HERE

For those who want to learn more about the mass killing of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors, this 2017 report (here) provides a good introduction, as does this video:


Scottish Parliament to vote on banning mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors

Press release from the Scottish Greens (10 June 2020)

Parliament to vote on mountain hare mass killing ban

The controversial practice of mass killing of mountain hares may finally end thanks to a proposal from Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who has lodged an amendment to the Animals and Wildlife Bill. The amendment would make mountain hares a protected species, effectively ending recreational killing and mass killing on grouse moors.

[Shot mountain hares strung up in a chilling larder, screen-grabbed from a controversial feature on Countryfile (2018) showing mountain hares being shot on a Scottish grouse moor]

The Lothians MSP has a proposed member’s bill to end the killing of the iconic animal but will seek to introduce the protections sooner in stage 3 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

Alison Johnstone said: “Mountain hares are iconic animals, native to the Highlands. Yet rather than being treasured they are barely protected by the Scottish Government, and persecution and mass killings are rife. This is our chance to end the killing and protect this species for future generations.

In 2019 the conservation status of the mountain hare was downgraded to ‘unfavourable’ after new data published by the EU revealed populations have experienced a major decline [see here]. This followed shocking evidence of large-scale killing on shooting estates [here] apparently to increase the numbers of grouse available.

Mountain hares are routinely being killed in huge numbers on grouse moors in particular, with an average of 26,000 killed every year. Efforts to get shooting estate managers to practice voluntary restraint has failed.

I hope that the SNP and other parties will ignore special pleading from the shooting lobby and do the right thing next week. Either this amendment passes and mountain hares are protected, or Parliament turns a blind eye to the continued slaughter of a native species


Stage 3 of the Animals & Wildlife Bill will take place next Wednesday and MSPs will vote on Alison Johnstone’s amendment to make the mountain hare a protected species.

If you’d like to encourage your MSP to support this amendment, please contact them now. If you’re not sure who your MSP is, you can find out by typing in your postcode here.


Scottish Land & Estates admits it needs help to interpret scientific data

In response to this morning’s news of the massive decline in mountain hares on some grouse moors in NE Scotland, the grouse shooting industry has treated us all to its usual display of outright denial and utter contempt in response to any scientific research that undermines its mantra that grouse shooting is environmentally sustainable and doesn’t need any kind of regulating.

Here’s the full response of the Scottish Moorland Group (part of the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates):

And here’s the full response from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association:

Both statements are pitiful in their arguments: ‘We didn’t see him’, ‘He never asked us for our data’ and they confuse rigorously-collected scientific data with vested interest opinion, as seems to be the norm these days. On social media several gamekeepers have chosen to make personal attacks on the integrity of the study’s authors, Dr Adam Watson and Professor Jeremy Wilson, both of whom are highly respected experts within their fields. Questioning the honesty of an 88 year old man, just because you disagree with his research findings, is not a good look.

Neither of these two organisations make any attempt to critique the study’s actual scientific methods, although both have disputed the scientific findings and both have posted a copy of a graph from the GWCT, purporting to show ‘no discernible trend’ in the mountain hare population. They’ve probably been encouraged to cite this graph as ‘evidence’ to support this claim because that’s exactly what the GWCT has been doing all day, too:

What none of them seem to acknowledge (or even understand?) is that this GWCT graph bears no relevance whatsoever to the findings of Watson & Wilson that the mountain hare has suffered a catastrophic decline on some grouse moors in NE Scotland over a seven-decade-long study.

This GWCT graph shows data collected as part of the National Gamebag Census as an indication of the number of mountain hares that have been bagged (killed) since the 1950s. It is NOT a graph showing a population census of mountain hares over this period. All it shows us is that gamekeepers have been killing mountain hares at a fairly consistent rate over a long period of time (despite the so-called ‘voluntary restraint’ introduced a few years ago!), irrespective of the species’ declining population status. Dr Hugh Webster has written an excellent blog explaining this (see here).

We might have expected better from the GWCT, although let’s not forget this is the organisation that devised the Strathbraan raven cull ‘study’, recently slammed by scientific experts as being “completely inadequate“, “seriously flawed” and “will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence“.

We don’t, however, expect any better from the Scottish Moorland Group (or SLE) or the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, as neither are recognised for their glittering academic prowess. Although, the SGA statement does include the sentence, “It will be helpful to scrutinise the study’s methods and consistency given such a discrepancy with the current reality“. Perhaps they’ll ask their mate’s son, that HMRC tax officer (BSc Physics), to critique the authors’ critical thinking and scientific methods. We’ll look forward to that.

But things might be about to change at Scottish Land & Estates – they’re advertising for an ‘Environment Assistant’ with the specific role of ‘developing the organisation’s ability to understand, analyse, interpret and sometimes to challenge, a wide range of scientific reports and data on environmental issues‘:

Read the full job advert here: SLE Environment Assistant job description_Aug2018

God knows SLE needs some help in this area but looking at the job spec, desired experience and salary, SLE isn’t expecting to recruit anyone with much ability. Not that they’ll need much if all they have to do is explain to the Scottish Moorland Director that if the Scottish hen harrier population has suffered a 27% decline over a 12 year period that doesn’t mean the population has “remained static“.

Meanwhile, SNH has responded to the Watson & Wilson mountain hare decline paper with this:

Obviously having learned a lesson from its approval of the “completely inadequate” and “seriously flawed” Strathbraan raven cull licence, SNH is no longer willing to rely upon its own scientific staff and is quite rightly seeking the input of its Scientific Advisory Committee on this important issue.

It’ll be very interesting to see whether SNH is still willing to claim the mountain hare is in ‘favourable conservation status’ (as it did on very shaky evidence last year) in light of today’s publication. If it isn’t in favourable conservation status (and we don’t see how it possibly can be), that should be the green light for the Environment Secretary to extend the closed season year-round, meaning no more mountain hare massacres unless under a specific licence from SNH.

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