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Mountain hare study begins

Winter mountain hare sitting (c) James Hutton Institute
"We believe that reliable and easy to obtain estimates of animal abundance or density are key to their sustainable management.

The James Hutton Institute has joined forces with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) to begin a three-year study to trial different methods of assessing mountain hare populations in upland areas of Scotland.

Mountain hare populations are under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation, and in some areas, from large, local culls on grouse moors. Although not a fully protected species, the UK is obliged to ensure that the status of hare populations is not threatened in any way.

The project will develop reliable and cost-effective field methods that can be used to inform management and form the basis of a longer-term monitoring programme. This will lead to a better understanding of how hare populations are faring at both local and national scales, and to better informed decisions about their sustainable management.

Currently most of the information on hare population trends is drawn from voluntary reports to GWCT's National Gamebag Census scheme about the number of hares shot on estates (game bags). The new project will trial different methods to identify the most suitable way of estimating hare numbers, with the objective of making reliable estimates of population abundance or density. One of the aims of the study is to develop a method which doesn’t rely solely on scientists but uses methods that could be collected by people working in the uplands.

James Hutton Institute researcher Scott Newey said: “As leaders in field research on mountain hares, we welcome this initiative. We believe that reliable and easy to obtain estimates of animal abundance or density are key to their sustainable management. This is challenging for mountain hares because methods need to be tailored to the species and their various habitats. This project aims to develop methods that can be used by all land managers to estimate mountain hare numbers in upland areas of Scotland.”

Ron Macdonald, SNH’s director of policy and advice, commented: “This new study will lead to an improvement in the quality and quantity of information available on mountain hares in Scotland. We know there are genuine concerns about the state of mountain hares in Scotland, and this study will help us better understand the impact of land management on hares. This is important to ensure that current hare management measures are sustainable.”

Notes to editors:

The mountain hare (Lepus timidus) is Britain’s only native lagomorph (the group of mammals that includes rabbits and hares). In Scotland, heather moorland actively managed for red grouse provides very good habitat for the species, as the rotational burning of heather (muirburn) ensures there is ample young heather growth. It is listed under 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'. As well, Article 14 of the directive requires member states to ensure that the exploitation of such species ‘is compatible with their being maintained at a favourable conservation status.’ It is also a quarry species in Scotland and can be legally hunted for sport, but the impact of harvesting or culling on its population isn’t well understood. As well, fragmented habitat has the potential to affect how hares can disperse, re-colonise and survive. There is evidence that hares have declined locally after heavy culls, after former grouse moors have been planted with trees, or after heavy heather grazing by other animals.

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Printed from /news/mountain-hare-study-begins on 01/10/23 05:15:01 PM

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.