Scottish parliament votes to give mountain hares special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act
Thu 18 Jun 2020
Gamekeepers and grouse moor managers will be banned from mass culling mountain hares after Scottish ministers bowed to intense pressure from conservationists.
The Scottish parliament voted on Wednesday night to give mountain hares special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which will make it an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill or injure the hare without a licence.
Conservationists and animal welfare groups were delighted with the decision, which came as MSPs voted to ban salmon farmers from shooting seals and introduced far tougher penalties for wildlife crime amongst a series of new animal protection measures.
Bob Elliot, the director of the animal welfare charity OneKind, and a former wildlife crime investigator, said his organisation and others had been pressing Holyrood to protect mountain hares for several years.
“Different reasons given by the grouse shooting industry for the supposed need to control mountain hares, such as the prevention of louping ill, a disease carried by ticks, have been successively discounted, and animal welfare has taken precedence,” he said.
The measure was introduced by Alison Johnstone, the Scottish Green party MSP, as a late amendment to the animal protection bill and accepted on Wednesday night by Mairi Gougeon, the Scottish rural affairs minister.
The mountain hare, which live in the Highlands and upland areas of southern Scotland and northern England, is widely seen as an emblematic species; it turns white in winter to aid camouflage in the snow. Up to 25,000 are thought to be shot each year by grouse moor managers and gamekeepers on the grounds they carry ticks and diseases which harm young red grouse, and also feed on heather, shrubs and saplings.
The joint nature conservation committee, an expert advisory committee to the UK government, told the EU last year that mountain hares were in “unfavourable inadequate conservation status”, partly due to a lack of data about their numbers.
The Werrity report for the Scottish government, which recommended licensing of grouse moors last year, also said mountain hares required greater protection.
Sarah-Jane Laing, the chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners, said: “These changes will not help Scotland’s wildlife, which is the prime concern of gamekeepers and land managers.
“Mountain hares are thriving on Scotland’s moors and their fate will not be improved by this vote. There is clear evidence that the control of hares helps combat tick and Lyme disease and protect plants and young trees. Balanced wildlife management is key to meeting Scottish government targets on biodiversity and tree planting.”
Alex Hogg, the chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “A grave mistake has been made today. This is a bad law, made by people it will not impact upon.
“There will be no satisfaction in turning around in a few years and saying: we told you so, but, certainly, this is an important date in the demise of another iconic species, killed by political trade-offs and emotive campaigns.”