A new study by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the RSPB shows that mountain hare numbers on moorlands in the eastern Highlands have declined severely in recent years.
Counts of mountain hares from decades of spring counts on moorland managed for red grouse shooting and on neighbouring mountain land were analysed.
Susan Davies, the Trust’s Director of Conservation said: “This study is a significant addition to the science underpinning assessments of the conservation status of mountain hares and the reasons for their decline. This data has been gathered by Dr Adam Watson over more than 70 years. Robust analysis clearly highlights a severe decline in mountain hares since 1999 on moorland managed intensively for red grouse.
“The cause of this decline is inextricably linked to large scale culls of mountain hares. These culls are undertaken by the grouse sector, in the belief that they will prevent the transmission of the louping ill virus (LIV), and help secure an economic return from shooting grouse.
“However, there is no compelling evidence of a significant link between mountain hares and this disease in grouse. Until leaders in the grouse industry stop promoting these spurious connections we cannot have any confidence in them to lead the change to the more sustainable management practices that are required to improve the health of our uplands.
It’s a continuing case of smoke and mirrors by the grouse sector. The time is right to introduce better regulation of grouse moor management. Large scale culls of mountain hares must end.
“The Scottish Moorland Group refers to a voluntary code to inform mountain hare management but that Code has only recently been agreed by the Moorland Forum. It is also doubtful that grouse moor managers have adequately adopted the best practice guidelines, and there is no compliance monitoring of the requirements of the code.
“Similarly the grouse sector calls on RSPB to look at evidence gathered by other moorland managers but in turn that sector seems to refuse to provide much more than a brief summary of this data to Scottish Natural Heritage.
“It’s a continuing case of smoke and mirrors from the grouse sector. The time is right to introduce better regulation of grouse moor management. Large scale culls of mountain hares must end.”