Wildlife groups have condemned the “mass slaughter” of mountain hares. But landowners insist the cull is necessary to protect grouse.
According to a national newspaper report, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says it has received evidence that between 1,500 and 1,700 mountain hares were shot by landowners across the Lammermuirs in the spring.
Wildlife groups say that the mass slaughter of the species is unjustified and cruel.
But landowners insist the cull is needed to protect grouse from disease so that they can be shot for sport.
Derek Philips of the Hare Preservation Trust said: “Most people will see no justification for killing these animals on an almost industrial scale. This goes beyond hunting for the pot or what one may call sport. This is extermination.
“Mountain hares have survived in pockets in several hill ranges in southern Scotland. Hares were on the decline in the UK until the Wild Life Act (Scotland) offered protection which is not covered and does not happen in England.”
This issue is expected to be raised in the Scottish Parliament by Green MSP Alison Johnstone.
Mr Philips added: “Scottish Wildlife Heritage states that mountain hares should be managed sustainably. Sadly a hare spotting walk in the Lammermuirs should now carry a prize for the lucky person who might just see one. A few plump brown birds may be seen skimming low and giving a rasping call but apart from that – in wildlife terms there will be nothing.”
Culling of mountain hares is not illegal, though they are a protected species. Thousands are shot and trapped on uplands because land managers say ticks they carry spread a viral disease – louping ill – which can be fatal to grouse.
A spokeswoman for one landowner said: “This was routine, carried out to control numbers and hence maintain balance within the fragile uplands habitat.”
Tim Baynes, director of the Moorland Group of the landowning organisation, Scottish Land and Estates, said: “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.”