An animal welfare charity has raised concerns over new licensing guidance for the killing of mountain hares
OneKind suggests the welfare of hares has not been prioritised in new protection and licensing guidance, published by government body NatureScot, which applies from August 1.
Mountain hares were included on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) from this March and so have full protection.
Bob Elliot, OneKind director, expressed the charity’s “delight” that mountain hares are now a protected species and said the introduction of a licensing scheme “should ensure that landowners and land managers will no longer be able to kill mountain hares as they please”.
He said: “We are pleased that NatureScot has indicated that they will not grant licences for the control of tick-borne diseases, as this was the main reason given for the mass-scale killings of mountain hares on grouse moors (despite there being no scientific evidence to support the theory that hares spread disease to red grouse).
“Licence applicants will also be required to provide a detailed herbivore management plan complete with evidence to demonstrate that mountain hares are actually doing damage and that hare populations in the area are stable.
“We are confident that this will discourage frivolous and fraudulent applications.
“The most common method to kill mountain hares under licence will be by shooting. We urged NatureScot to introduce a requirement that anyone shooting hares would need to prove that they are competent to do so, to avoid prolonged suffering.
“Sadly, NatureScot did not agree, despite the Scottish Government recently introducing a competency requirement for the shooting of deer.
“If this type of provision is considered necessary for the welfare of deer, there is no logical or scientific reason it should not be for other species.”
However Mr Elliot raised concerns over the “inhumane” use of falcons for killing hares.
He added: “We are also concerned that the licensing scheme has permitted falconry as a method of killing. Using falcons to kill hares is inhumane for both the hares and the birds.
“It is also an inefficient method, which begs the question: could those using this method just be doing so for their own enjoyment?
“Additionally, the requirement to provide mountain hare population data to obtain a licence was waived for those seeking to protect young trees (which will likely make up most of the licences granted).
“We were disappointed that NatureScot chose to make this exemption despite wide stakeholder agreement that population data should be a key licensing requirement.
“NatureScot will keep this licensing scheme under review until at least 2024. We will attempt to monitor how and why hares are being killed and continue to urge NatureScot to strengthen the scheme.”
NatureScot’s head of wildlife management Donald Fraser said: “Mountain hares – our only native hare – are an important and valued species in the Scottish hills.
“The licensing approach reflects the increased protection which came into effect earlier this year and will help ensure healthy populations of mountain hare can be found and enjoyed in the mountains, while giving some recourse when there is a need to prevent damage being caused to saplings, crops or sensitive habitats.
“Under the legislation, mountain hares must be treated in the same way as other similarly protected species, with licences only permitted for certain purposes as set out in that legislation.
“These include, for example, control to prevent serious damage to planted trees and for the conservation of habitats.
“Falconry is not a licensable purpose in itself but can be used as a means of taking hare to prevent damage under licence.”