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Mountain hares

Photograph of a mountain hare in winter colours
Mountain hare populations on Scottish grouse moors can reach very high densities with up to 200 hares per square kilometre, and can show high amplitude regular fluctuations in density.

The Scottish mountain hare, Lepus timidus scoticus, is a subspecies of the mountain hare Lepus timidus and is native to the Highlands of Scotland. Although widespread throughout Scotland, they are typically more numerous in central and eastern Scotland and are strongly associated with the heather moorland that is managed for red grouse - where they likely benefit from habitat management and predator control aimed at improving grouse densities.

Mountain hare populations on Scottish grouse moors can reach very high densities with up to 200 hares per square kilometre, and can show high amplitude regular fluctuations in density. Our research - based on the analysis of hunting records of the number of hares killed each year on individual sporting estates - suggests that around 50% of mountain hare populations are cyclic and show regular changes in density every 5-15 years. The reasons for these regular fluctuations remain unclear.

Mountain hare populations have declined in recent years and populations are under threat from habitat loss, fragmentation, and local over-exploitation. Long-term climate change is likely to adversely influence the sub-arctic/alpine habitats favoured by mountain hares. Mountain hares are listed in Annex V of the EC Habitats Directive (1992), as a species 'of community interest whose taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management measures'. Member States are therefore required to ensure the 'favourable conservation status' of mountain hares and that their populations are managed sustainably.

There are three broad questions our research on mountain hares is trying to address:

Associated research

In a series of collaborative projects with The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, and other stakeholders we continue to work on the conservation and management of mountain hares.

Selected publications and reports

Research

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.