A CHARITY has called for greater protection of the iconic mountain hare, claiming tens of thousands are killed each year.
OneKind, a leading animal protection charity, is making the appeal ahead of the first day of the open season on Monday.
Director Harry Huyton claims the hare, an iconic species native to Scotland, are routinely shot by shooting parties ‘out for the thrill’ or by gamekeepers managing land for red grouse shooting.
He said: “OneKind wants to see complete protection of the mountain hare which would mean an end to culls and commercial hunting. The indiscriminate and ruthless killing of such an iconic species is wholly unacceptable.
“Shooting hare is notoriously challenging as they are small, fast moving animals and because the shooting takes place in an environment where plenty of cover is available the risk of injury rather than a clean kill is heightened meaning many shot hares will inevitably suffer.”
The mountain hare is native to the Highlands, yet Mr Huyton said they are regularly shot, even in the Cairngorms National Park area.
He added that the mountain hare had become a target for gamekeepers who fear they will spread disease, reducing the amount of grouse available for commercial shooting.
As a result, the charity claims tens of thousands are being eradicated every year, with one study finding that between March 2006 and February 2007, 24,529 mountain hares were killed in Scotland.
Highland and Islands MSP David Stewart added: “Mountain hares are wonderful animals and they need our protection from being shot.
“As a vital part of the eco system and heritage of the Highlands, it is a tragedy that so many are needlessly killed each year. Hopefully OneKind’s campaign, which I fully support, will be able to raise awareness and win them the greater protection they need.”
In a joint statement between the Scottish Government, SNH, Scottish Land and Estates and Wildlife Conservation Trust in 2014, a call for ‘voluntary restraint’ on large-scale culls of mountain hares was issued.
Following evidence of large-scale culls taking place within the Cairngorms in early 2016, Cairngorms National Park echoed this statement, calling for ‘better data’ and asking moorland managers to ensure any culls do not threaten the conservation status of mountain hares.
Scottish wildlife charities, including the RSPB and Scottish Wildlife Trust, have called on the Scottish Government to impose a three-year ban on all mountain hare culling on grouse moors until safeguards are in place to that ensure killing is ‘sustainable’.
But OneKind believes this does not go far enough and wants to see complete protection from all forms of commercial hunting and culling.
OneKind is a Scottish charity based working to end cruelty to Scotland’s animals through campaigns, research and education.
Staff and volunteers will be visiting Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorms on Monday with a giant hare, asking members of the public to support its campaign and Care for the Mountain Hare.