Alison Johnstone Back to

We need to do more to ensure the brown hare & mountain hare have a future

10 November, 2016 - 00:00

This week I took part in a Holyrood debate on Species Champions. You can watch the video here (my contribution is 21 minutes in). 

I am the proud champion of the hare and we need to do more to ensure that the brown hare and the mountain hare have a future in Scotland.

The brown hare is listed as a vulnerable and declining species, and a UK biodiversity action plan has been written for it. The brown hare needs us to maintain a diverse range of habitats, particularly in intensive agricultural settings, so that it can fully exploit its natural anti-predator strategies of avoiding detection and having a means of escape. 

In 2014, experts from the Scottish Wildlife Trust and I headed to the wilds of Lothian, and were much obliged to the hare who appeared and allowed us to marvel at him or her. Those experts pointed out that simply letting the edges of fields grow wild would do much to help the species, as would reforming our agricultural subsidy system to better enable farmers to deliver maximum environmental benefits.

The introduction of a national ecological network for Scotland would provide greater connectivity and would help with the availability of habitat, food and cover for the brown hare and other species. Such a network would place the same importance on planning for green and blue infrastructure as is placed on planning for grey infrastructure at the moment. In this week's debate I asked the cabinet secretary to ensure that we have diverse habitats and a national ecological network, as well as action to end the barbaric sport of hare coursing.

The mountain hare is confined to Scotland and indigenous to Scotland. Large-scale culling of mountain hares is now routine on many of our upland sporting estates in the belief that it protects red grouse against the louping ill virus, which is spread by ticks. I say “belief” because there is no scientific evidence to back that up.

Constituents and non-constituents alike have raised concerns with me about the culling of mountain hares in Scotland. One constituent wrote:

“It’s most unfortunate for the white hare, that it and the red grouse can live together in such harmony in their beautiful environment, yet they are so far apart in the financial world”,

and said that

“the sad truth is this is a case of the persecution of one species in favour of another.”

I support the Scottish conservation bodies that are calling for a compulsory three-year moratorium on the culling of mountain hares on grouse moors. It seems clear that the voluntary restraint called for by Scottish Natural Heritage provides inadequate protection for mountain hares. Given the special status of our national parks and their importance for the mountain hare, I have suggested the cabinet secretary uses her powers to introduce a nature conservation order to prohibit culls and driven hare hunts in those areas.

In the meantime I look forward to the mass lobby expected outside Parliament on Thursday 17 November, which will seek an end to the culling of mountain hares.