Photo of dead mountain hares in Scottish Highlands raises alarm


A new photograph showing dead mountain hares piled in the back of an all-terrain vehicle close to the Cairngorms National Park has prompted renewed concerns about mass culls by landowners.

The image was taken by the wildlife photographer, Pete Walkden, yesterday afternoon on the road between Findhorn Valley and Farr in the Monadhliath mountains. It was published by the Raptor Persecution UK blog.

Landowners legally cull hares in the belief that this helps protect grouse from disease, ensuring that there are more birds available to be shot for sport. But this is rejected by conservation groups, who have been campaigning for a ban.

The Scottish Government has backed an agreement between its wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, and landowners calling for “voluntary restraint on large culls which could jeopardise the conservation status of mountain hares”.

The animal welfare charity, OneKind, argued that the photograph was proof that large-scale culling was still taking place. “This cull was legal, but the fact that it took place in the dying hours of the shooting season only illustrates the determination and cynicism of those who are determined to kill mountain hares,” said OneKind’s director, Harry Huyton.

The open season allowing the unlicenced shooting of mountain hares ended on 28 February. According to OneKind, the only official estimate of the number of mountain hares shot was back in 2006-07, when 24,529 were killed.

The Ferret reported in November 2016 that a leading member of the Cairngorms National Park Authority had advised gamekeepers to hide dead hares with covers over the backs of trucks so that they couldn’t be photographed. In March 2016 we published photos showing a pickup truck full of dead hares near the Lecht mountain pass in the Cairngorms.

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, has described the previous publication of dead hare photos as “an ill-informed attempt to discredit the legitimate culling of mountain hares”. It argued that hare culls were “a recognised conservation practice which is essentially no different to deer culling” necessary where numbers were high and populations would not be jeopardised.

Photo thanks to Pete Walkden.

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