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Figures suggest rise in number of licences granted to kill breeding hares

The statistics were published following a Freedom of Information request made by the Scottish Greens.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Greens indicate a rise in the number of licences granted (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Figures obtained by the Scottish Greens indicate a rise in the number of licences granted (Owen Humphreys/PA)

A Scottish Green MSP has pledged to crack down on the “weak laws” which have allowed a “culture of persecution to thrive” around the killing of wild animals.

Alison Johnstone, the party’s parliamentary co-leader, made the comments after figures were published suggesting there has been a rise in the number of licences granted to shoot hares across Scotland during their breeding season.

The statistics were published following a Freedom of Information request made by the Scottish Greens to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) – the body responsible for granting licences.

According to the analysis,  almost 7,000 brown hares have been licensed to be shot since 2012, with a total of 1,308 recorded last year.

The Government has allowed a culture of persecution to thrive when it should be protecting our natural heritage Alison Johnstone

“This is yet another example of how large-scale killing of wildlife has become routine, with little more than a timid nod from Scottish Natural Heritage, the regulator who’s meant to protect our environment,” said Ms Johnstone.

“It’s disappointing to see this significant increase in the number of hares killed during the breeding season.

“There are serious welfare concerns here, and Scottish Natural Heritage should investigate this increase immediately, whilst developing and promoting non-lethal methods of minimising any damage that hares might do to new woodlands.”

The closed season for brown hares runs between February 1 to September 30, while the period is between March 1 and July 31 for mountain hares.

Licences can be granted for specific purposes such as preventing the spread of disease, preventing the serious damage of forestry, or for social, economic or environmental purposes.

Applicants must be able to provide clear reasons as to why alternatives such as taking action in the open season would not resolve the problem.

Ms Johnstone added: “Hare killing is part of a bigger, systematic problem with wildlife protection in Scotland.

“Our laws and enforcement are weak, and widespread killing is permitted in secret.

“Whether it’s brown hares, mountain hares or foxes, the Government has allowed a culture of persecution to thrive when it should be protecting our natural heritage and working with others to develop alternatives to killing.

“The Greens are determined to challenge this and I will bring forward a proposal to introduce proper protections for wild mammals imminently.”

We are committed to safeguarding the welfare of all our animals, including those in the wild. Scottish Government spokeswoman

A spokeswoman for SNH said: “Brown hares are a traditional quarry species and in Scotland they can be legally shot between October 1 and January 31.

“In the close season, licences to control hares can only be granted for specific purposes, such as preventing spread of disease; and serious damage to forestry.

“The most likely cause of a steady increase in the numbers of brown hares controlled under license are changes in land use, particularly expansion of woodlands. The establishment of new woodlands brings a range of benefits, including mitigating climate change, restoration of ‘lost’ habitats, enhancing urban areas, and  improving public access to nature.

“However, before a licence is given we must be satisfied there will be no overall conservation impact on the species; and applicants must be able to provide clear reasons why alternatives such as fencing, or taking targeted action in the open season would not resolve the problem.

“We are confident that all activities carried out under these licences do not affect the conservation status of any of our native species and welfare issues are a key consideration.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said:  “We are committed to safeguarding the welfare of all our animals, including those in the wild.

“We continue to work closely with partners, including Scottish Natural Heritage, to protect our wildlife.

“This includes ensuring that licences to control brown hares during the close season are only granted for specific purposes, including preventing the spread of disease and serious damage to forestry, and when all alternatives have been considered.”

PA

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