The Scottish Parliament has voted to protect mountain hares in Scotland

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Mountain hares in Scotland will have year-round legal protection following an amendment to the law proposed by Green MSP Alison Johnstone, which passed by 60 to 19 votes.

At present mountain hares are controlled between 1 August-28 February to protect trees, fragile habitats and to manage tick populations. The mountain hare population in Scotland was recently estimated at 350,000 hares, which as recent GWCT research shows, is a relatively high density of hares compared to populations anywhere else in Europe

Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon advised there would be delay in carrying out the protection and that consideration would be given to a licensing system.

Forestry at risk

Responding to the proposal, Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman 
Alex Hogg said: “As the Green party demands more tree planting to counter climate change, it will be interesting to see how Alison Johnstone intends to protect saplings from mountain hares.”

Dr Colin Shedden, BASC’s director in Scotland, commented: “In voting for this amendment, some members of the Scottish Parliament have effectively ignored the positive association between grouse moors management and mountain hare conservation.”

Ross MacLeod, Head of Policy Scotland, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, advised: To protect Scotland’s mountain hare population we must protect their habitat – the sort of heather moorland best managed and maintained by grouse moors. It’s sad that the emotional decision to halt the shooting of hares will do nothing to stem the loss of their habitat or improve the conservation status of mountain hares.”