I would urge caution on those postulating a dramatic “increase” in local mountain hare populations in Scotland without offering any hard facts.
Due to the lack of any sort of agreed and established method of monitoring mountain hares, there is simply no reliable information on trends or population figures.
The figure of 350,000 quoted in your article (23 March) is from a 20-year-old report which itself acknowledges that it is based on limited information.
Current work planned by Scottish Natural Heritage and the James Hutton Institute aims to provide us with an effective and reliable method of monitoring this important upland species.
When this is concluded, it will be possible to more confidently report on the state of our only native hare.
Until then, speculative optimism is misplaced and irresponsible and this species needs a cautionary approach which ought to start with a reduction in the numbers of mountain hares subject to culling on grouse moors.
Further to Ian Fingland’s letter (24 March) about the fall in the numbers of mountain hares in the Lammermuir Hills, the cull of more 1,500 hares there last year may have something to do with it.
This deliberate cull, boasted about by some keepers, was instigated by the managers of several grouse moors, and conducted with a view to reducing the numbers of ticks that might be passed on the grouse from the hares.
While this does occur, it is doubtful transmission of ticks from one species to the other would have any impact on grouse numbers at the population level.
The removal of all small groups of birch trees in the various cleuchs and stream channels on the moors occurred at the same time, notionally to remove all possible nesting sites for crows, ravens and birds of prey.
Thus we have grouse moorland managers in one part of Scotland boasting about the environmental benefits of their management regime, while in another area the same species is being systematically removed, all for the benefit of a small minority that get pleasure from killing one of Scotland’s iconic species.
Scottish Ornithologists’ Club Local Recorder for Borders