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Estimating mountain hare numbers

Photograph of a mountain hare in winter colours
Estimating animal abundance or density is a central question in ecology and wildlife management, yet remains problematic.

Estimating animal abundance or density is a central requirement in ecology and remains one of the most challenging areas of wildlife management. Methods of estimating animal numbers must be tailored to the survey objectives, habitat and species.

The mountain hare is the UK’s only native lagomorph species (rabbits and European hares are introduced species) and numbers are thought to have declined in recent years, it is a species of conservation concern and is listed under UK and EU conservation legislation, an important prey species for other animals, and an important game species.

Assessment of mountain hare abundance and density is necessary to meet the UK’s EU legislative conservation obligations, inform conservation targets and for local management of mountain hare populations. However, no simple and widely applicable method has yet been developed and validated.

Developing a reliable method for estimating mountain hare numbers that could be used by non-specialists to estimate mountain hare density across a range of densities, habitats and scales is therefore seen as a priority by a wide range of stakeholders. A three year collaborative project between the James Hutton Institute, the Game & Wildlife Conservation and Scottish Natural Heritage aims to establish and validate a simple and reliable method for estimating mountain hare numbers so that future population trends can be rigorously monitored and managed.


Areas of Interest

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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.