Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Running with the hares - letter to The Herald

Below is a letter written to The Herald by GWCT Trustee John Shields in response to their recent article - 'Outrage over mountain hare massacre'

Dear Sir

Talk about running with the hares.  Rob Edwards’s article was short on facts, and long on people and organisations racing ahead of themselves.

There is no consistent evidence for a decline in mountain hare numbers.  The recent report of decline referred to was derived from hares counted whilst people were surveying for birds, not hares.  The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, working for SNH, found that mountain hare distribution was stable between 1997 and 2007, and very-long term data suggests that changes in hare numbers by more than ten-fold are quite natural.  So it is simply a fact of hare ecology that their numbers vary hugely from place to place and year to year.

Legislation is not the be all and end all, though it can be useful.  The close season brought in by Scottish Government in 2011 was specifically to protect lactating female hares.  However EU designation is not protection.  On the contrary, it regulates the type of activities that can be used to manage hares, thus recognising the importance of hunting this species across Europe.

Compared to the rest of Europe, mountain hares are at uniquely high densities in Scotland because of grouse moor management.  Restricting the ability of moors to manage aspects of what affects the key incentive to invest would result in many fewer hares in fewer places in Scotland.  One has only to look at the decline in hare distribution in places where forestry and sheepwalk have replaced heather moors.

So conservationist bodies and Government must be careful of not appearing terribly naive: if a disease that can otherwise end the investment in moorland management is present, the temporary and limited reduction in hare numbers is justified on long term moorland sustainability grounds.

‘Extermination’ is certainly not what moorland managers advocate or practice for any species; the same goes for the suffering of individual animals.  Control is not ‘industrial', and nor should it be necessary to find a ‘justification’, as the article puts it, for necessary and routine management by properly qualified practitioners, who live and work with the natural environment every day of their lives.  It is they who know when hares have reached unsustainable levels in certain areas, and they who are best placed to manage such situations responsibly.  The detached sentimentalism of Rob Edward’s article does nothing to inform the public of such work.

Finally, and as if to highlight the lack of balance, the article was accompanied by a picture a brown hare, not a mountain hare.

Slow and steady was never more appropriate.

Yours faithfully

John Shields
Trustee, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

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