Page last updated at 14:26 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 15:26 UK

Research finds rise in hare kills

Mountain hare (Pic: Scott Newey/Macaulay Institute)
Mountain hare are thought to number 350,000 in the UK

More Scottish mountain hares have been shot or snared on estates than 11 years ago, according to a government commissioned study.

The increase was shown at locations in Scotland previously surveyed in 1995/96.

In 2006/07, 24,529 were taken - most in an effort to control the spread of disease-carrying sheep ticks.

Campaign group Advocates for Animals claimed a large number of hares were snared without a licence to do so.

Environment Minister Michael Russell said the report gave the "clearest picture" so far of the range of the animal.

He added: "The issue of snaring is a complex one, but it is very important that the law is observed. It is vital that point is put across."

The only sure way to eradicate the suffering and end the threat to non-target animals is to ban snaring altogether
Libby Anderson
Advocates for Animals

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) commissioned the research on the distribution of mountain hare across 90 estates.

Fewer estates were surveyed 11 years ago, so increases could only be shown at locations previously studied.

The animals killed in 2006/07 was estimated to represent 7% of the 350,000 UK mountain hare population.

Most were taken to protect crops, forestry and to control ticks which carry louping-ill, a viral disease which can affect human beings and domestic animals and has been blamed for killing red grouse chicks.

Researchers said no conclusions could be drawn as to possible changes in the abundance of mountain hares, or the impact of hare control and ticks, because the survey provided information on distribution only.

Distribution - particularly in strongholds in eastern and central Scotland - was found not to have changed much in the last 11 years.

Ron Macdonald, head of policy and advice at SNH, said the significant piece of survey work illustrated the species may face pressure from heavy culling in some areas.

He said: "Of particular concern is the control using unlicensed snares and the lack of information on the impact of management culling on the populations of mountain hare throughout Scotland.

"There appears to be a problem with the interpretation of the law as regards snaring - the majority of which appears to have been carried out without the necessary licence."

He added the agency was keen to work with estates and gamekeepers on the issue of control.

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Macaulay Institute and Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) undertook a nationwide postal questionnaire survey among gamekeepers, hill walkers, land managers and conservation groups.

Dr Adam Smith, of the trust which co-ordinated the survey, said follow-up surveys and monitoring would need to be done.

He said: "The trust were also interested to note that despite the apparent increase in the numbers of hares being taken there is no sign of a link between this and changes in hare distribution."

'Sorry story'

Advocates for Animals has been campaigning for ban on the use of snares.

The group said its inquiries had found only limited number of licences were issued by the Scottish Government to control a small number of hares.

It said it appeared that almost 5,000 were snared in breach of the regulations.

Libby Anderson, political director, said: "The sorry story of the hares supports what we have been saying for years - that it is impossible to regulate snaring in our countryside.

"The only sure way to eradicate the suffering and end the threat to non-target animals is to ban snaring altogether."

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20 Feb 08 |  Scotland
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