Ten wildlife and conservation organisations are calling for a three-year ban on the culling of mountain hares on Scotland’s grouse moors.
Whilst recognising that moors provide an ideal habitat for mountain hares, the group suggests that gamekeepers may only be culling the animals in an effort to protect red grouse from the tick-borne louping ill virus.
Wildlife groups say there is a lack of scientific evidence to support the claim that culling hares protects grouse.
Simon Jones of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, one of the groups campaigning for a moratorium, said: “We, along with the other organisations, are calling for a three year ban, to allow time for all those involved to take stock of the longer term impacts of large scale culling.
“Once the results of the study have been published we will then be able to identify the best ways to monitor mountain hare populations and measure the impact that management is having on their conservation status.
“The unregulated and seemingly unsustainable culling that is endemic on many grouse moors is a threat to these important populations.”
But Scottish Countryside Alliance Director Jamie Stewart said: “It is arrogant and somewhat disingenuous of this group to call for a moratorium on the control of any species without first evaluating the situation.
“It has long been recognised that Mountain hares are difficult to count, leading to inexact population estimates. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust , the UK’s leading game and wildlife research body, the James Hutton Institute and Scottish Natural Heritage has undertaken a three year study to determine a better understanding of this species and how land management practices may affect the population. I would ask that this groups show some respect and await the outcome of the study before calling for a cessation on control measures.”
The calls for a ban has also drawn an angry response from gamekeepers.
A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “For groups with environmental credentials to call for such an environmentally irresponsible measure beggar’s belief.
“The numbers of tick, already a growing problem in the countryside, will escalate, endangering any bird that nests on the ground, not to mention the potential repercussions for human health.
“It will be bad for birds and bad for biodiversity.”