The Highlands are celebrating a special conservation bonus following two very good grouse seasons.Scottish moorland managers are reporting large numbers of the much loved and easily recognised mountain hare, linked to last year’s ‘best in a generation’ grouse season. The Scottish population of hares is thought to be around 350,000 and in some areas they are now at historically high levels – the hares have the red grouse to thank!

Concern has been expressed recently that hare numbers may be going down; however grouse moors in the Angus Glens, Speyside and Highlands report that their numbers have increased along with grouse levels. Heather moorland managed for red grouse is an extremely good habitat for hares to thrive on.

The mountain hare is the only native species of hare or rabbit in Britain, easily distinguished by its white plumage during the winter months and brown during the summer. It is known that its population fluctuates in 7-10 year cycles, however actively managed moorlands give this iconic Scottish species a sustainable future.

Danny Lawson, head gamekeeper on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens, said: “I have seen more mountain hares this year than at any time since I came here. Our mountain hare population has been increasing along with grouse over the last three years because our heather management gives them good grazing and because of predator control over the estate and other neighbouring estates.

“Good weather in the breeding season helps mountain hare numbers and the last two seasons, 2013 and 2014, have been very good for both grouse and mountain hares. Like grouse, mountain hare populations have to be carefully managed. Culling is legal and is necessary in some circumstances and such management should be done sustainably and be supported by a sound management plan.”

Tim Baynes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group, says: “There are surprising gaps in our collective knowledge about this secretive animal. This can lead to assumptions about population changes which are not correct and we support the research project commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage to get a better handle on how to accurately count hares on the open hill. What does seem certain from the long term observations of moorland managers on the ground is that there is a strong link to land use; hare numbers are likely to go down where moorland is unmanaged or afforested but will increase where managed for red grouse.”

ENDS

For further information please contact Ramsay Smith or Rachel Woodford at Media House on 0141 220 6040 or email: ramsay@mediahouse.co.uk / rachel@mediahouse.co.uk

Notes to Editor

The Scottish Moorland Group

The Scottish Moorland Group, which is part of Scottish Land & Estates, is designed to provide specialist input on a wide range of issues related to moorland, from grouse management to carbon/peatland restoration. It uses practical knowledge from people on the ground to inform Scottish Land & Estates’ policy at a national level and passes information back down to a network of regional groups of moorland owners and managers. It also provides the link with wider stakeholder groups such as the Moorland Forum, the Upland Coordination Group and maintains a strong link with the Moorland Association in England.

To find out more about The Scottish Moorland’s Group visit www.scottishlandandestates.co.uk

About the Mountain Hare

After the introduction of the brown hare to England in Roman times, mountain hares became restricted to upland regions where they were able to hold their own, feeding on heather and other moorland plants, while the brown hares fed on lowland grasses and agricultural crops. By the early 19th century mountain hares were found only in the Scottish Highlands. Towards the middle and end of the 19th century – accompanying the development of grouse shooting and the management of heather for grouse – some landowners released mountain hares across the remaining British uplands.

Mountain hares are part of the sporting interest on many upland Scottish estates, where they are found at high densities, benefiting from the production of cover, young heather and few predators. There has been a good deal of media activity recently as contemporary moorland management for red grouse, notably culling mountain hares to prevent tick-borne disease transmission, is raising concern over the long-term conservation status of the species.

For more information on the mountain hare and their management on Scottish estates please visit www.gwct.org.uk

The Highlands are celebrating a special conservation bonus following two very good grouse seasons.

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