This article first appeared in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald and other Scottish Provincial Press publications.
Last week animal rights charities Onekind and The League Against Cruel Sports released footage which showed large-scale culling of mountain hares on grouse moors in the north and north east, including at the Corrybrough Estate in Tomatin, Inverness-shire.
Currently landowners are allowed to shoot hares between August and February, without a license. Shooters are expected to exercise “voluntary restraint.”
This latest evidence once again highlights that it is barbarism, rather than restraint, that is commonly exercised.
Rather perversely, the shooting of Scotland’s iconic mountain hares only takes place to facilitate the shooting of another iconic Scottish species, Grouse.
Landowners claim shooting is to control “large numbers” of mountain hares, yet there is no evidence to support this claim, and no studies have been undertaken to assess the number.
There is a similar lack of evidence to back up the claim that mountain hares spread disease carrying ticks to grouse, yet this is another reason trumpeted for the continued persecution of these beautiful creatures.
Greens raised this matter at First Minister’s Questions last week and were assured that the Scottish Government are urgently engaging with stakeholders to address the serious concerns that we have.
Meetings are all well and good of course, but bold action is required to stop the decimation of this precious species.
I support the calls for a moratorium on the shooting of hares, which would provide the necessary space for research to be carried out on hare numbers. Once this evidence has been compiled and assessed we would then be in a position to discuss the management of the species going forward.
The introduction of a licensing system for shoots on grouse moors would be a positive step which could be taken by the Scottish Government.
Not only might this protect the hare, such a system could also provide protection to our birds of prey, which all too often mysteriously vanish in proximity to moors, preposterously badged as “sporting estates.”
I don’t find anything particularly sporting about the slaughter of defenceless animals.
One welcome step the Scottish Government could take immediately, which would begin to address some of the serious concerns that exist, would be to address perceptions that Scottish Land and Estates have privileged access to Scottish Ministers.
I don’t believe it is unreasonable to contend that it the landed class have easy access to Ministers, then so should those organisations promoting the welfare of the creatures that are under siege.
In recent years the Scottish Government have taken, somewhat tentatively, but never the less positive, steps toward much needed land reform in Scotland. It’s now time for it to take the next steps to help protect the wonderful biodiversity in the Highlands, which we all have a right to enjoy.