Call to end hunting of mountain hares as new season opens today

An MSP has stepped up her demands for the hunting of mountain hares to end as the killing season opens today.

Calls to ban the hunting of mountain hares have been stepped up as the new season opens today.
Calls to ban the hunting of mountain hares have been stepped up as the new season opens today.

Alison Johnstone said it was time to ban "the mass killing" of hares, as she called for people to respond to a consultation on her proposed bill to end the practice.

Her Protection and Conservation of Wild Mammals Bill, proposes to amend the current hunting law to end the use of dogs as a tool to kill any wild mammal with the exception of rabbits and rodents. The legislation would also "close loopholes" in the fox hunting ban and end the killing of hares, which she says has become routine on grouse moors across Scotland.

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The consultation, which was launched in June has already received more than 1100 responses, putting it on course to be one of the most engaged with Member’s Bill consultations in Scottish Parliament history.

The Scottish Greens MSP said: "We need to ban the mass killing of Scotland’s hares. The voluntary restraint urged by the government's nature agency has proved inadequate. My proposed bill would protect brown and mountain hares, ensuring that they could only be killed as a last resort. The consultation on my bill is open for another six weeks and I’d urge everyone who is interested to respond and help shape the final bill.”

Her call was backed by charity OneKind which said tens of thousands of mountain hares will be killed by gamekeepers between today and February 28 in a bid to manage their land for red grouse shooting, and claimed that hares were being "shot freely for sport".

Bob Elliot, OneKind director, said: "The First Minister has been clear that the culling of mountain hares is not acceptable yet once again the killing season has begun. It's time to say enough is enough to the routine shooting of hares by gamekeepers managing their land for red grouse shooting and by hunting parties for the thrill.

"We need to ensure this year's open season on mountain hares is the last and call on the Scottish Government to put an end to the large-scale culling of this beautiful animal."

A freedom of information request last year revealed on average 26,000 mountain hares are killed in Scotland - with an all-time high of 37,681 in 2014.

Tim Baynes, of Scottish Land & Estates, said: "The control of mountain hares is already subject to regulation at Scottish and European level. Significant research and opinion from Scottish Natural Heritage and conservation bodies state that mountain hare populations are not endangered and in some areas they are thriving.

"A ban is not only unnecessary, but it goes against existing evidence showing that mountain hares, along with deer and rabbits, may sometimes need to be controlled, to protect against over-grazing in some areas.

"Any cull of mountain hares is carried out within defined parameters, ensuring that a sustainable population remains. We recognise that this is a complex area of land management policy but it is incumbent on all sides of the debate to take into account the evidence gathered by government, researchers and land managers on the ground."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government believes large-scale culling of mountain hares that could threaten their conservation status cannot be justified.

"Professor Werritty's independent group on grouse moor management is looking at whether further regulation of mountain hare control is required. The group is due to report later this summer. It would not be sensible to take action in advance of receiving that report."