Green MSP urges ban on large-scale culls of mountain hares

A Green MSP has called on the Scottish Government to outlaw mass culls of mountain hares.

Landowners currently operate a policy of voluntary restraint on the number of the hares killed but Alison Johnstone said this is “inadequate”.

She called for the need for a licence to kill the animals, required in the close season which runs from March 1 to July 31, to be extended year-round.

An average of nearly 26,000 hares are killed per season, with 37,681 culled in 2014.

“We need to end the killing of this iconic native species,” Ms Johnstone said.

“The voluntary restraint urged by the Government’s nature agency has proved inadequate.”

The MSP added: “I have previously suggested ministers use their powers to introduce a nature conservation order to prohibit culls.

“Scotland is a nation of animal lovers and the public will be outraged that the Government continues to drag its feet on ending animal cruelty.

“Today marks the beginning of a period during which hares are afforded some protection to allow them to breed in peace.

“Ministers have the power to extend this period year round, and I would once again urge them to do so.”

She claimed there is “no scientific evidence” hare culls protect grouse against a virus spread by ticks.

Last year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned mass culls could put the conservation status of the species at risk and said legislation to protect the hares is among options being considered.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We believe large-scale culling of mountain hares that could threaten their conservation status cannot be justified.

“Professor Werritty’s independent group on grouse moor management is looking at whether further regulation of mountain hare control is required.

“The group is due to report this spring.

“It would not be sensible to take action in advance of receiving that report.”