YOU report (23 March) anecdotal claims that mountain hare numbers have increased. Duncan Orr-Ewing of the RSPB (Letters, 25 March) urges caution, owing to supposed lack of an established method for counts.
This implies that it is not yet known how to count hares. Readers can be forgiven for accepting this, because the public statement from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) last December is so misleading.
From 1956 in Glen Esk, David Jenkins and I counted hares using dogs. From 1958, John Flux showed that hares can be counted by transect walks. Ray Hewson and I studied abundance on many areas. These studies appeared in peer-reviewed journals.
Later, I continued counts by scanning, walking and dogs, and published the results in Mammals in North-east Highlands. All three methods provided totals for all adults in winter.
The book revealed statistically significant declines of moorland hares, especially after staff since 1990 killed hares severely to scarcity. Photographs showed many hares dumped to rot on two moors. SNH knew about this earlier work, but disgracefully ignored it in the December statement. After years of inaction, SNH now relies on new commissioned work. SNH claims this will “ensure a robust evidence-base” for counts. This is mere hope.
(DR) ADAM WATSON
We were surprised that Mr Murray (Letters, 25 March) should doubt the clear conclusions of 30 years of peer-reviewed research into the damaging impact of tick on grouse populations.
Research by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and others illustrates this effect and also provides practical solutions such as regular sheep dipping and species management which benefits grouse, sheep health and possibly even human health. Anyone who has ever seen a tick-infested plover chick would surely value such work. There are incentives to undertake this control at no cost to the public thanks to sheep farming and driven grouse shooting.
This should be celebrated because managing diseases on moorland is an expensive business – the cost of treating, vaccinating, fencing and shepherding 1,000 sheep in a tick-infested area costs tens of thousands of pounds per year. Grouse moors are open spaces which can support a number of Scottish wildlife species including mountain hare that benefit from grouse moor management. We believe management plans to limit tick abundance on moorland are a valuable part of supporting moors - provided an informed, planned and balanced approach is taken.
We hope our current research project with the James Hutton Institute and Scottish Natural Heritage to establish how to accurately count mountain hare (a tick host) will inform and help moor managers develop such balanced plans.
(Dr) Adam Smith
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust