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Distribution of mountain hares

Photograph showing a mountain hare in winter colours
The Scottish mountain hare, Lepus timidus scoticus, is a subspecies of the mountain hare Lepus timidus and is native to the Highlands of Scotland.

The distribution of Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus) in Scotland (2006/07)

In 2007 the then Macaulay Land Use Research Institute (now part of the James Hutton Institute), in a collaborative project led by The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and in association with The Scottish Game Keepers Association and Scottish Natural Heritage, completed the first national mountain hare survey which aimed to assess the current distribution and management of mountain hares in Scotland, estimate the number of mountain hares taken for harvesting and population control purposes over the same time period, and to compare these data to similar data collected in 1995/96 (Tapper 1996) to establish any patterns of change in distribution and the level of take.

Mountain Hare distribution map of Scotland

A postal survey of estate owners, managers and gamekeepers asking if mountain hares were present on their estate and for information on the numbers culled (if any) in 2006/07 received replies from 918 estates representing a total area of 71,098 square kilometres (based on 10 x 10 kilometre squares), equivalent to 90% of the total area of Scotland. Of this area, mountain hares were recorded as present on 34,359 square kilometres (48%) and as absent from 36,739 square kilometres (52%).

Comparing the 2006/07 mountain hare distribution to that results of the 1995/96 survey which covered 20,936 square kilometres suggests that there has been no net gain or loss in distribution in areas surveyed in both 1995/96 and 2006/07. However, it is not possible to assess whether mountain hare distribution has changed outside this area. In addition, it is not possible to comment on changes in mountain hare abundance during this time.

The survey revealed changes in the reasons for culling mountain hares. The majority of mountain hares are now culled for tick control (50%), 40% are culled for sport, and 10% are culled to protect trees and crops. In 1995/96 the majority (60%) of mountain hares culled were culled for sporting purposes. The total number of mountain hares reported culled in 2006/07 was 32% more than in 1995/96 over the same area.

See the full report on the Scottish Natural Heritage publications website and read the mountain hares survey newsletter.

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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.