Lammermuirs hare cull stirs up debate

Derek Philips
Derek Philips

A Borders hare enthusiast is calling for an end to culling of the animals after reading reports of a “massacre” of mountain hares in the Lammermuirs.

Clovenfords nature lover Derek Philips is urging action following an article in the Sunday Herald which claimed the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has evidence that between 1,500 and 1,700 mountain hares have been shot on the local moors.

Mr Philips said: “I want all landowners to stay within the law. Also, I wish a moratorium on hare slaughter, both mountain and brown. It is obscene that these well-loved animals should be killed to allow the slaughter of game birds in the name of sport.”

Wildlife groups have been calling for stricter regulations over mountain hare culling, while landowners say restricting numbers is necessary to protect grouse from disease, arguing the hares carry ticks which spread the grouse-killing louping disease.

Retired teacher Mr Philips told us: “I want some balance. I don’t believe the hills in the south of Scotland are overrun with mountain hares. I think these people are getting away with things they shouldn’t do. But it’s not all landowners (doing this kind of thing).

“If they are worried about the (grouse) shooting, they should carry out further investigation about ticks; they shouldn’t be going at it like a bull at a gate.”

He says he understands culling too many red deer, but he believes there are not enough mountain hares locally for there to be any reduction in numbers.

A member of the Hare Preservation Trust, RSPB IFAW and Scottish Wildlife Trust, Mr Philips said his interest in the species started when, as a 16-year-old, he and his uncle climbed Windlestraw Law.

“There had been a shoot and the fence was hung with dead hares stinking, 70 to 80 of them, and all around the other hares were just running, they were dizzy, they had been driven. It’s an image I can still see and I’m in my 70s,” he added.

He welcomes reported plans by Green MSP Alison Johnstone to raise the issue in the Scottish Parliament.

The director of Scottish Land and Estates’ Moorland Group, Tim Baynes, said the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust had done “extensive research” on mountain hares, adding: “Mountain hares have been managed by sustainable culling for many years on Scottish moorlands, for tick control and sometimes for protection of young trees.”

He said the reported local cull was “not an enormous number when spread over 30,000 acres of the Lammermuirs”.

He disagreed that it was “slaughter”, saying: “It is a management operation, just as annual deer culls all over Scotland are a management operation, to keep a species in balance with its habitat and other management objectives.”

He said mountain hare populations are healthy in many areas, but that the shy creatures are “secretive by nature and not always easy to see”.

He added that grouse management also results in higher populations of many rare and protected bird species.

In a statement he concluded: “Mountain hares breed very successfully in areas such as the Lammermuirs because grouse moors manage the habitat and control foxes and stoats, which will predate young hares. However, breeding success brings its own problems because mountain hares are a vector for the sheep tick which carries diseases such as louping ill. Therefore, their numbers are sustainably managed with culls carried out in the prescribed season at a level which does not endanger the population.”