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Scotland’s mountain hares gain protected status

The unlicensed mass culling of mountain hares has been outlawed, in a landmark amendment passed at Holyrood last night.

The rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon announced that the Scottish Government would back the amendment, which was proposed by Green parliamentary co-leader Alison Johnstone.

Ms Johnstone said “I’m delighted the Scottish Government has finally given in to pressure to protect this iconic native species. This has come about because of the overwhelming public support for my amendment, for which I am very grateful.” In the debate, she paid tribute to the work of the legendary ecologist Adam Watson, who died last year. Dr Watson had personally studied the animals for more than 75 years, and his 2018 paper had shown massive declines of more than 99% in Scotland’s hare populations.

The new law means that there will no longer be an open season for uncontrolled killing of hares; instead, future control of numbers would have to be done under licence, for permitted purposes.

The amendment was the culmination of a campaign by animal welfare campaigners OneKind, and several conservation groups. OneKind director Bob Elliot said “This is a triumph for one of the Scottish Parliament’s hare champions, Alison Johnstone, and underlines the willingness of a minister to listen to public opinion on the status of this cherished species.”

“The upsurge in public support has been momentous. OneKind is delighted to have been part of this and to see a successful conclusion to one of our most heartfelt campaigns to end the mass-scale mountain hare killings.”

Gamekeepers and landowners groups reacted angrily to the news. The chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, Sarah-Jane Laing, said: “These changes will not help Scotland’s wildlife, which is the prime concern of gamekeepers and land managers. Mountain hares are thriving on Scotland’s moors and their fate will not be improved by this vote.”

Another amendment to prevent the large-scale killing of beavers in Tayside was defeated, despite concerns after as many as 87 beavers were shot under under licence in 2019.

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