Are mountain hares REALLY thriving?

Snares set for mountain hares

Snares set for mountain hares

Mountain hare in snare

Mountain hare in snare

Fox snare set illegally on fence on Glenogil Estate, where the captured animal can be fully or partially suspended

Fox snare set illegally on fence on Glenogil Estate, where the captured animal can be fully or partially suspended

There have been two interesting articles in The Courier on consecutive days. On Monday 23 March an article appeared headed ‘Mountain hares thriving’. This may be the case in some areas of Scotland, but on some estates extensively managed for driven grouse shooting their numbers have been seriously reduced as part of the management of the tick, for which the mountain hare is a vector. The article paints a rosy picture of mountain hares in the Angus Glens, where there are reported to be large numbers ‘linked to last year’s best in a generation grouse season.’

Unbelievably the spokesperson for the article is the headkeeper on Glenogil Estate, one of the estates in the Angus Glens, and an estate with one of the worst records in Scotland over the past decade for wildlife crime. Over 40 poisoned baits have been found on Glenogil Estate, with poisoned victims found including two white-tailed eagles and numerous buzzards. A further white-tailed eagle was reportedly shot on the estate, and several illegally-set snares and traps have been recovered.

I have been on Glenogil estate numerous times and I have seen many more dead mountain hares in stink pits and as baits in various traps than ever I have seen live ones. A quote at the end of the article on behalf of the Scottish Moorland Group states, ‘Hare numbers are likely to go down where moorland is unmanaged or afforested but increase where managed for red grouse.’ This ‘increase’ seems incongruous with the purge on the tick, an undisputed killer of grouse chicks, where many estates involved in driven grouse shooting have seriously reduced deer and mountain hares, and in some cases have fenced out deer completely all in an effort to reduce tick numbers.

I am far from convinced by the article, and my doubts are not alleviated by the choice of the Glenogil Estate spokesperson.

The article in The Courier of Tuesday 24 March, which had also been in the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail, was entitled ‘New drive to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland’. I was particularly interested to read that, in addition to forensic work done by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, some wildlife forensic work can also be carried out by a police specialist of 25 years’ experience at Nelson Street Police Station in Aberdeen. While he clearly spends most of his time dealing with serious crimes committed against humans it is good to know that techniques can be adapted to combat wildlife crime.

In the article, Det Ch Supt Robbie Allan, who is the Police Scotland lead officer for wildlife crime issues, states that a major new crackdown on wildlife crime would launched at the beginning of this week, featuring a team of 150 specialist police officers. Many of these officers have now been trained at a targeted course at the Scottish Police College. This is a considerable improvement on the 90 wildlife crime officers in existence when I retired in 2011.

One of the crimes dealt with is that of badger baiting. Craig Borthwick, a vastly experienced wildlife crime officer covering part of the west of Scotland, states he deals with up to six cases a week involving injured badgers. He said: “People are coming from across the west of Scotland and the north of England to the Glasgow area for badger-baiting. Once they have identified a sett they will dig it out then send the dogs down to find the badger. When the badgers are caught, the gangs then fight them with their dogs – often to the death. If the dogs and badgers are badly injured, they are often shot afterwards. Dogs that are less seriously injured cannot be taken to a vet because of the risk of them alerting the police. Instead, the crooks subject the dogs to painful DIY first aid including superglueing their wounds.”

Wildlife Crime Officer Constable Malcolm O’May, based in Callander, Perthshire, specialises in dealing with crimes against birds of prey. He said, “Though it is the lowest recorded crime in our area it takes up the biggest amount of time because they are complex inquiries. These crimes happen in remote areas where there are usually no eyewitnesses and no CCTV.”

Badger baiting and bird of prey persecution, of course, are only two of the many crimes committed against wildlife dealt with by the police. More and more the detection of these offences and the conviction of the persons responsible are being aided by forensic evidence.

This announcement is a swipe in the eye for the recent LINK report (see earlier blog), which was compiled without any consultation with the police, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service or National Wildlife Crime Unit, and claimed that wildlife crime is not being taken seriously or being properly investigated by Police Scotland



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