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Mountain hare research: Speyside

Rural Matters

Article written by 24 August 2016
hare-running

Report on Mountain Hare research in Speyside

Recently habitat loss, fragmentation (a reduction in the total area of a habitat) and over exploitation of mountain hares has put the population under threat, with a recent survey indicating a 43% decline in hare numbers from 1995 to 2013 (BTO). The mountain hare is a mammal which is native to Britain and Ireland. It is listed in annex V of the EC (European Commission) Habitats Directive (1992), as a species of community interest who’s taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management levels. Members of the EU are therefore required to ensure that the populations of mountain hares are managed and sustained. However, since 2001 in Scotland the mountain hare has had a season where it can be shot between 1st August and 29th February, previously it could not be killed at any time.

A joint mountain hare project has been created between the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), The James Hutton Institute and The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) to develop a reliable and cost effective counting method for the population densities of mountain hares in Scotland. Methods are to include walking transects in daylight and at night with lamps and thermal imaging and dung counts with a clear up round which is repeated six months later. These methods will be trialled and calibrated against an independent measure of mountain hare density (100 traps set to live catch hares as well as marking individual hares). This will provide an efficient, cost effective and reliable method for counting mountain hares.

The GWCT are planning of a Speyside Estate, in Morayshire, Scotland, which is managed by JM Osborne & Co, to carry out the mountain hare research. The trials are planned to last approximately 6 weeks with the aim to develop a reliable, cost efficient counting method to estimate the mountain hare population densities. The study area is approximately 4 kilometres square, the area must not be visited regularly by estate staff during the trial and have a stable population of more than 10 mountain hares per square kilometre for the project to be successful.

The estate commented saying ‘We are delighted to be participating in this survey. Our hare population has done very well here due to predator control as foxes are the main predator of hares. We look forward to the results of the study’

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