In June, the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament. Environment LINK welcomed the Bill and the amendments which ranged from increasing penalties for serious animal and wildlife crimes to offering new and increased protections to animals and wildlife in Scotland.
One key amendment which passed within this Bill was protected species status for mountain hares in Scotland. Until recently mountain hares were only protected by a closed season which runs from 1st March to 31st July. Beyond this, mountain hares currently can be culled to manage control on grouse moors where they are often present. The practice of mountain hare culling has significantly reduced their numbers2, to the extent there have been calls to ban mountain hare culls in recent years.
Mountain hares are a Priority Species under the Biodiversity Action Plan where, despite having cultural and ecological significance, due to significant declines in their populations, their conservation status is currently considered “unfavourable” in Scotland. Under the EU Habitats Directive, the Scottish Government also have a duty to monitor, report and maintain their population in good health. The Animal and Wildlife Bill now provides further and much welcomed protections where through extension of protected species status they are now protected from unlicensed culling.
The Bill is yet to be ratified into an Act, with the mountain hare culling season starting on the 1st of August. Several MSP Species Champions across the political spectrum introduced several amendments to the strengthen the Bill.