Gamekeepers committing ‘hare genocide’, claims Packham

BBC celebrity Chris Packham is accusing gamekeepers of “ruthlessly killing” hares on estates across the UK. 

The TV presenter made the comment in an article in The Telegraph about the English government considering a partial ban on hare shooting. 

The newspaper quotes a DEFRA source who insists ‘people kill hundreds of thousands of hares a year during breeding season’. It says brown hare numbers have dropped to 800,000 from 4 million in the 1880s and that the mountain hare population may be just 1% of what it was in the 1950s – without saying what that figure was. The newspaper did not quote the civil servant praising shooting estates for hare conservation.

One gamekeeper tells us that on keepered estates, hare numbers are so good they often need controlling. It’s vital where there are outbreaks of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus and “a quick, ethical shot” is more humane than watching hares “die over several hours”. 

On the other hand, he tells us, unmanaged land and industrialised farmland have fewer hares because of different land management and increased poaching. An increase in hikers and dog walkers – sometimes with out-of-control pets – has also driven hares to woodland areas where the habitat is not so ideal for them. 

Tim Bonner from the Countryside Alliance would like to see proof that hares need legal protection. Shooting estates already conserve hares, with populations falling faster on non-shooting estates. Bonner questions why the government isn’t focussing on the greater problem of poachers.

“I think the story really is about DEFRA’s priorities,” Bonner says. “Who are they actually legislating on behalf of and why they are legislating? That’s a question we’ll continue to probe.”

The Telegraph story includes Packham accusing “some” estates of “hare genocide”. 

A code of practice for the management of brown hare, drawn up by the GWCT, CLA, Countryside Alliance, The Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and the Tenant Farmers Association, sets out the law and best practice for ensuring an appropriate and workable balance between the welfare and conservation of brown hares, their status as game, and their ability to cause serious damage to crops.

The GWCT says that, after 30 years of decline, brown hare numbers are showing promising signs of recovery.

Packham also uses the Daily Telegraph to attack grouse moors for heather burning, saying delegates at the COP26 climate change summit hosted by the UK later this year will “look out the window to see so much scorched earth“. 

That’s unlikely, since the venue is in central Glasgow. 

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