Animal rights activists have pushed a ban on mountain hare shooting through the Scottish parliament, even though the animal is in pest proportions in some areas.
Green MSP Alison Johnstone lodged an amendment to the Animals and Wildlife Bill at Stage 3 requesting that mountain hares be given full legal protection. The amendment, and others, was debated at Holyrood on Wednesday 17 June. Despite a rearguard action in debate from mainly Tory MSPs, the Scottish Green Party, who keep the ruling SNP in power, prevailed.
The ban is likely to come into force after the 2020 season, starting 1 August, which will probably go ahead as normal. Scottish officials are thought to be discussing the terms of the new licensing system.
Reacting to the news, gamekeepers in Scotland are considering forming a political party. The move comes after lawmakers banned the unlicensed culling of mountain hares and made them a protected species. Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg says a lack of control will harm the species and it is a “bad law” made by people it won’t affect. He says his organisation has for months been mulling the idea of forming a party to “ensure the working countryside is represented better” and the possibility of fielding candidates in list seats.
Mountain hares thrive on keepered moorland, where they are shot to reduce their impact on plant life and other wildlife. They eat plants and they are a source of ticks.
GWCT research shows that the Scottish Highlands have a relatively high density of hares compared to mountain hare populations anywhere else in Europe.
Unfortunately, on unkeepered land, mountain hare numbers have fallen in recent years. The Greens used this logic to push through a last-minute amendment to the Animals & Wildlife bill.
Shooters reacted with disbelief. “25 years of hunting and multiple generations of dogs for the purpose, all gone,” said one.
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Dr Colin Shedden, BASC’s director in Scotland, said: “In voting for this amendment, some members of the Scottish Parliament have effectively ignored the positive association between grouse moors management and mountain hare conservation. However, it is clear that Scottish Ministers recognise the need for a licensing system and BASC, on behalf of seven land management organisations, submitted licensing proposals to the Minister yesterday [16 June 2020].
“We will be continuing to work with Government to ensure licensing of shoots provides sustainable management of mountain hares.
“The decision may be classed as a win for the Green Party but without licensing it will categorically not help conserve the mountain hare.
“At a time of national and biodiversity crisis it beggars belief that the Green Party are politicising wildlife management issues by fast-tracking ill-judged legislative amendments.”
Shedden adds: “It is entirely appropriate for the mountain hare open season to continue until a workable licensing scheme comes into force. The amendment was rushed through without adequate scrutiny, and it will now take time to design a licensing scheme which will allow management to continue in a practicable way.”
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Alex Hogg says: “The Werritty review of grouse moor management looked at the issue of mountain hares in depth and Scottish Government is due to respond to that report in due course.
“That is where this issue should be looked at, not thrown late into a bill as a piece of political opportunism.
“Since seasons were brought in for mountain hares, all licences granted for culling have been given out by SNH to protect young trees. As the Green party demands more tree planting to counter climate change, it will be interesting to see how Alison Johnstone intends to protect saplings from mountain hares. She has certainly made a very forceful and compelling case for fenced forestry schemes running across upland Scotland.
“Mountain hares are controlled, in season, to protect trees and fragile habitats, to prevent disease and to manage tick populations which also have implications for human health.
“A great deal has been done by gamekeepers and estates to put into place new scientifically tested counting methodologies so that control measures are proportionate. That is the way forward and very few, if any, conservation bodies have followed suit which is perhaps telling. Complete protection will not address the key issue facing the species in Scotland today: their spiralling decline away from grouse moors which have maintained their habitats for centuries while still managing population levels.”
Animal rights extremists are jubilant:
Breaking: Scottish Greens end hare slaughter!
Thank you to the thousands of you who backed @AlisonJohnstone‘s move to end the slaughter of Scotland’s iconic mountain hares. The Scottish Parliament has listened, and the slaughter will end 🐰 pic.twitter.com/PYbXUq1Wdn— Scottish Greens (@scotgp) June 17, 2020