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Row erupts over mountain hare cull as population figures vary

A joint study by RSPB and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology claimed that across the Eastern Grampians, numbers were down to one per cent of the level recorded in 1954.

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Row erupts over mountain hare cull as population figures vary

A huge row has broken out over the practice of culling mountain hares – with wildly different estimates of the remaining population of the iconic mammal.

 

A joint study by RSPB and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology claimed that across the Eastern Grampians, numbers were down to one per cent of the level recorded in 1954.

 

In contrast, the Scottish Moorland Group claimed the hares were abundant and were only culled when necessary.

 

The long-term decline may be partly due to increased afforestation – but RSPB points the finger at intensive grouse moor management.


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Hares are a host for ticks, which managers believe fatally infect grouse chicks with Lyme Disease.

 

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “We consider large-scale population reduction culls are both illegal under EU law and unwarranted as a method for controlling grouse disease.

 

Hare populations

“Management of this species should now be more tightly controlled by Scottish Natural Heritage. We expect this subject to be given thorough consideration by the current independent grouse moor inquiry.”

 

A spokesman for the Scottish Moorland Group said: “This research is very much out of kilter with other respected research on mountain hares.

 

"This latest research also flies in the face of what estate owners and land managers see every day on the ground. Hare populations are very high.”

The moorland managers said they were ’perplexed’ by not being asked for data.

 

The Scottish Moorland Group spokesman added: “It will come as little surprise that RSPB Scotland has chosen to release this paper, continuing its political campaigning against grouse moor management, on the day that the season gets underway and it is obviously an attempt to influence the ongoing independent review of grouse shooting."

 

Mountain hares are notoriously difficult to count accurately.

 

Scottish Natural Heritage has recently published a 100-page guidance note on the subject.

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