Last year, the Scottish Parliament voted to make mountain hares a protected species, putting an end to Scotland’s mass scale mountain hare killings. It is now illegal to intentionally kill, injure, or take mountain hares at any time unless a licence is obtained. NatureScot, the public body responsible for Scotland’s natural heritage, has now published its mountain hare licensing scheme, which will take effect from 1stAugust.
While we welcome the licensing system, there are several areas where it seems the welfare of the hares has not been prioritised.
OneKind Director, Bob Elliot, said:
“We are, of course, delighted that mountain hares are now a protected species and that 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. OneKind is opposed to the killing of animals but believes if it must be carried out, that this should only be permitted in exceptional circumstances.
“We are pleased that NatureScot has indicated that they will not grant licenses 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.”
Addressing the shortcomings of the licensing scheme, Bob commented:
“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 agreeing to introduce 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.
“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 licenses 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.”