Culling of mountain hares outlawed in landmark amendment

Environmentalists have applauded the Scottish Government’s decision to accept an amendment banning the culling of mountain hares.

The move was backed in a 60-19 vote on Wednesday evening.

The amendment to the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill had been tabled by Green MSP Alison Johnstone.

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Maximum penalties for wildlife crimes will also rise to 12 months’ imprisonment and a £40,000 fine. Campaign group OneKind labelled the decision as a “triumph”.

A vote in the Scottish Parliament outlawed the culling of mountain hares.

Following the news, Scottish Land & Estates said that gamekeepers and land managers were ‘dismayed’ by the decision.

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Scottish Parliament has voted for sweeping changes to regulations covering the control of mountain hares and the introduction of further criminal offences of vicarious liability around the use of traps and snares.

“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.

"It was disappointing that this seems to have disregarded by so many at Holyrood today."

Ms Laing added: “Yet again, we have seen rushed, last-minute amendments to a bill which will lead to flawed legislation. It cannot be good governance to have years’ of scientific research, evidence and effort tossed aside without proper consideration.

"We support better animal welfare standards and strong penalties for wildlife crime and backed this bill’s objectives but are dismayed that legislation is passed without the type of scrutiny that the public would expect.”

Meanwhile, Scotland also banned the shooting of seals by the fisheries industry in a move welcomed by Humane Society International/UK as critically important for seal welfare in British waters.

Large numbers of seals are shot in Scotland every year in the name of protecting commercial fish farms and fisheries.

HSI has long been highly critical of this cull on welfare grounds, highlighting the lack of independent oversight, potential under-reporting of numbers of seals killed, the killing of pregnant females and mothers who may have dependent pups, and evidence that shooting does not always lead to instantaneous death.

The Scottish Parliament has approved the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill which amends the Marine Scotland Act (2010), repealing the provision to grant licences for the shooting of seals on the grounds of protecting fisheries and fish farms. The penalty for illegal seal shooting has also been increased to 12 months’ imprisonment/£40,000 fine or, on indictment, unlimited fine/5 years’ imprisonment.

Humane Society International’s Senior Marine Scientist, Mark Simmonds OBE, said: “An alarming number of seals are shot and killed in Scottish waters, and there is evidence that some are likely to be injured and die a slow and painful death at sea and may not show up in the official statistics.

“It’s a huge concern and so a ban on seal shooting in Scotland is critically important for seal welfare in British waters.”

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