Lost mountain hare could return to Langolm moorland

The iconic mountain hare could be returned to its former moorland home in the countryside surrounding Langholm.

Friday, 5th February 2021, 9:33 am
Mountain hare

The Langholm Initiative completed south Scotland’s biggest ever community buy-out when it purchased 5,200 acres of Langholm Moor, Tarras Valley and associated properties from Buccleuch Estates for £3.8m last October.

Legal paperwork was due for completion on January 31, with the group seeking to create Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, which they hope will become a haven for nature.

Now, gamekeepers in neighbouring upland areas hope to set up a meeting with the group to discuss the possibility of hares being reintroduced to the moor to kick-start a regional recovery.

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Alex Hogg, chairman of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “Mountain hares were common when gamekeepers worked at Langholm.

"There is potential for a win-win, here, for returning lost species, for reserve visitors to enjoy and for getting hares back to favourable conservation status in Scotland.

“There is a willingness for gamekeepers to discuss this with the community group and we hope a virtual meeting can take place after they get their feet under the desk.

“If all the tests can be met, we could see mountain hares back at Langholm.

"That would be a special achievement.

"If they were to re-establish successfully, it could also have a longer term benefit as a food source for the golden eagles which have been reintroduced to the south of Scotland.”

The mountain or ‘blue’ hare is Scotland’s only native hare and was a common sight at Langholm when the moor was managed for red grouse shooting.

Hares would be ‘live trapped’ on grouse moors to be translocated to moorlands with appropriate habitat, in a bid to re-develop a breeding population.

While gamekeepers have been criticised for culling mountain hares, research shows grouse moors house populations up to 35 times higher than non-managed moorland due to predator management and legal burning of heather which renews their food supply.

When hares reach high densities on grouse moors, however, they become highly susceptible to disease caused by gut worms which can see them die off in large numbers.

“Now that the new laws to protect mountain hares are passed, there is no longer an ability to

control hare populations on our moors,” said Mark Ewart, Co-Ordinator of The Southern Uplands

Moorland Group.

“It makes sense to use surplus populations from grouse moors to try to re-establish the species

elsewhere, or to build up fragmented populations so they become more resilient.

“Research points to there being not enough recruitment, in areas away from grouse moors, to

sustain the species in the longer run. Rather than watch them die on our moors from disease,

which is pointless, it makes sense to use the surplus to help the species recover.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​