Last year 1467 animals were killed in organised culls. 1467 wild animals, native to our country that have become scape goats for a bigger problem.
They stand accused of spreading a disease that threatens commercial interests, and they are paying for this with their lives. I am of course referring to England’s badger culls, but I could equally be talking about Scotland’s mountain hare culls, apart from one important detail. Scotland’s mountain hare culls are thought to be ten times bigger. In just one reported incident in the Lammermuir hills, one and half thousand were estimated to have been culled on one moor. The only study of the culls, which was based on a questionnaire that was sent out to estates found that 25,000 mountain hares were killed in a year in 2006/7. And that’s just the estates that replied.
At least half of these were killed to protect grouse shooting, which brings me to one of the striking parallels between the two culls: the flimsy scientific evidence upon which they are based. Badgers are culled because of fears they act as a vector for bovine TB, but the evidence does not support this. The Krebs report into badger culling concluded that “badger culling is unlikely to contribute positively, or cost effectively, to the control of cattle TB in Britain”. Mountain hares are culled on grouse moors because of fears they act as a vector for louping ill virus, transmitted to red grouse via ticks that live on mountain hares, and indeed on all wild mammals. Yet Scottish Natural Heritage scientific experts reviewed the evidence and advised that “There is no clear evidence that mountain hare culls serve to increase red grouse densities”.
Since we launched our campaign in August, we have been up and down the country speaking to people about the culls and encouraging them to support us. We estimate that we’ve had conversations with about 1500 people as part of our #HareCare tour of Scotland, and pretty much everyone says the same thing: “I had no idea this even happened”. Our campaign aims to end this shroud of secrecy.
In November OneKind organised a rally and mass lobby of the Scottish Parliament as part of the campaign. About 100 people attended the rally, and volunteers had knitted a mountain hare for every MSP in Parliament, each bearing a personal message asking for their support for an end to the culls. The rally was addressed by Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens) and David Stewart MSP (Scottish Labour), as well as the Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham MSP. We were delighted to hear her message that the Scottish Government is against large-scale culling and has not ruled out legislative action, but it’s clear that in 2017 we will have to keep on building the pressure if we’re to see decisive action.
One of our key asks to the Scottish Government is to use existing powers to prohibit culls in our National Parks. We believe this would be a simple and logical step forward. Our National Parks should, after all, be safe havens for wildlife, not scenes of brutality like the one a rambler stumbled upon earlier this year where the photo of the pick-up truck over loaded with dead hares were taken. Incredibly, since our rally, it has come to our attention that a member of the Cairngorms National Park Board has advised that to “assist with reducing the chance of an image getting out to public domain on social media if the keepers used covers on back of vehicles when transporting dead hares etc rather than open trucks”. We were shocked that while we are campaigning to expose and end mountain hare culls, National Park management appear to be colluding in quite literally covering them up.
The badger culls are continuing in England in spite of the popular opposition. Will the mountain hare culls continue here in spite of our campaign and the efforts of many others I find it hard to believe that they will. I like to think Scotland has a Government that is more progressive & compassionate. We’re looking forward to some serious progress on this issue in 2017.