Last year, OneKind launched a campaign asking our supporters to speak to their MSPs about the indiscriminate and ruthless slaughter of an average of 26,000 mountain hares each year in Scotland. A total of 14,500 emails were sent to MSPs across Scotland asking them to do everything in their power to stop the killing of this iconic animal.
We blogged about the responses we’d had at the time which you can read here but since it’s almost the end of the killing season, we thought we’d revisit the blog with some added responses that have come in since then.
Health warning – this is based on the replies that OneKind supporters have forwarded to us (thank you to our wonderful supporters). If you’re aware of a response not mentioned here, then please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The parties are listed below in order of size of MSP representation in the Scottish Parliament.
17 out of 62 MSPs have responded so far – Angus MacDonald MSP, Kevin Stewart MSP, Graeme Dey MSP, Jeane Freeman MSP, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Maureen Watt MSP, Willie Coffey MSP, Christine Grahame MSP, Gillian Martin MSP, Kate Forbes MSP, Michael Russell MSP, James Dornan MSP, Maree Todd MSP, Ben Macpherson MSP, Michael Matheson MSP, Fiona Hyslop MSP, Gordon MacDonald MSP
Despite First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking out about mountain hare culls last year, “large-scale culling of mountain hares could put the conservation status at risk and that is clearly unacceptable” less than a third of the SNP MSPs have responded.
Several of the MSPs talk about the “economic benefits and employment opportunities which well-run land management businesses, including field sports, provide in rural Scotland”. However, they fail to mention that upland land management is being scrutinised and questioned via the Revive coalition for grouse moor reform in Scotland. There’s also no mention of the fact that nature tourism helps the economy and employment. even if we’ll soon have no mountain hares left to look at if the current population continues to decline.
The 2014 voluntary restraint agreement with land management organisations is also mentioned in the standardised SNP response, but given that 26,952 hares were killed in 2015, it’s clear that it is not working.
Christine Grahame MSP, who is conveyor of the Cross-Party Group on Animal Welfare gave the most supportive response beginning her email with the statement, “I do not agree or support the culling of wild mountain hares” and signing it off with “I oppose a cull”.
18 out of 31 MSPs have responded so far – Annie Wells MSP, Brian Whittle MSP, Alexander Stewart MSP, Gordon Lindhurst MSP, Oliver Mundell MSP, Peter Chapman MSP, Tom Mason MSP, Murdo Fraser MSP, Rachael Hamilton MSP, Finlay Carson MSP, Alexander Burnett MSP, Miles Briggs MSP, Liam Kerr MSP, Graham Simpson MSP, Bill Bowman MSP, Jeremy Balfour MSP, Donald Cameron MSP, Michelle Ballantyne MSP
Most of emails from the Scottish Conservatives were identical and they all opened with the statement, “The Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare” before going on to say they do support culls through the following statement:
“Mountain hare populations fluctuate, and periodic culling is required when numbers are high. Grouse moors are often the best habitats for mountain hares anywhere in the country. We therefore appreciate that they need to be proactively managed in order to combat overgrazing and disease problems, when populations fluctuate.”
The MSPs who have responded also said that it is “important to ensure [mountain hare’s] survival”. While these emails were sent before the shocking report that revealed mountain hare populations are just 1% of what they were in the 1950s (and therefore we should all be very concerned about their survival), several MSPs like Brian Whittle MSP have still been using that quote in emails sent to our supporters just a few weeks ago some five months after those shocking figures were released.
In a further email to a OneKind supporter, Alexander Burnett MSP seemed to take issue with someone of the points raised regarding footage OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports filmed last year of a mountain hare cull. He said, “it is not a recreational event as you mistakenly suggested.” However, while our footage was a large-scale cull on a grouse moor, around 40% of hares shot are killed for sport which was exposed in our 2017 report, Mountain hare persecution in Scotland. Of course, it is completely irrelevant to the hares as to the purpose of being shot.
16 out of 23 MSPs have responded so far – Alex Rowley MSP, Richard Leonard MSP, Johann Lamont MSP, Daniel Johnson MSP, Colin Smyth MSP, Elaine Smith MSP, Anas Sarwar MSP, Jenny Marra MSP, Neil Findlay MSP, Claire Baker MSP, Kezia Dugdale MSP, Claudia Beamish MSP, Rhoda Grant MSP, David Stewart MSP, Neil Bibby MSP, Monica Lennon MSP
We’re are delighted that Labour leader Richard Leonard MSP confirmed in an email that “Scottish Labour is opposed to any mass culling of mountain hares”. He also stated that his party “will continue to call on the Government to do everything possible to make sure that the unnecessary killing of hares does not take place in Scotland.”
The email response from the majority of MSPs stated that:
“Mountain hares are a vital part of our heritage of the Highlands, and it is a tragedy that so many are needlessly killed each year. We agree that there has been no evidence to support the rationale for a cull, and we support an audit of hare numbers in Scotland.”
A few of the MSPs gave personal responses to our supporters. Colin Smyth MSP said, “the ongoing killing of mountain hares is extremely worrying” and he is “deeply concerned that the Cabinet Secretary does not appear to recognise the need to better protect mountain hares” with Alex Rowley MSP adding that he was “horrified by the terrible pictures we saw of mass killings”.
5 out of 6 MSPs have responded so far – John Finnie MSP, Mark Ruskell MSP, Alison Johnstone MSP, Andy Wightman MSP, Ross Greer MSP
The Scottish Greens have been very outspoken on mountain hare culls with Alison Johnstone MSP not only being the species champion for the hare in the Scottish Parliament, but she also raised our video directly with the First Minister during FMQs last year. Like Scottish Labour, The Scottish Greens have a standard response which states:
“I fully support OneKind’s calls for the closed season to be extended year-round and for in-depth research on local hare populations to take place and applaud the organisation for taking the lead on this issue.”
Their response is the most detailed of all the parties as it contains several links for their constituents to follow including work Scottish Green MSPs have done on the issue including links to questions lodged in the Parliament and press coverage from John Finnie MSP.
Ross Greer MSP also personalised his email stating that he was a supporter of OneKind, and he included a link to a photo of himself attending OneKind’s mountain hare rally in 2016.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
2 MSP out of 5 have responded so far – Mike Rumbles MSP, Liam McArthur MSP
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs, Mike Rumbles and Liam McArthur were the only Lib Dem respondents to our campaign. There emails were very similar with both stating that “we must protect our mountain hare population” and while they both said they recognised “the importance of the grouse shooting to the rural economy” they wanted to be clear that “land management must be undertaken in a sustainable way that protects all our species including the mountain hare population.”
Both MSPs also pointed out that the Scottish Liberal Democrats worked closely with OneKind during the passage of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill (now Act) back in 2009/10.
Liam McArthur MSP added more detail to his response and said he believes “there should be a moratorium of mountain hare culls until such time as there is enough evidence on hare populations” and points to the fact he has raised this issue previously with Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.
Over 16,000 people have signed our open letter to the Scottish Government calling for this year’s open season (which ends today) to be the last. Haven’t signed yet? Please add your name here and help us protect Scotland’s mountain hares.