According to a recent research collaboration between the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), mountain hare populations in the Scottish Highlands appear to be in some hot water.
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Their study, published this week in the Journal of Applied Ecology, explains how mountain hare populations in the Scottish Highlands have declined so rapidly since the 1950s that their population numbers now sit at less than 1% of their original levels.
Between the years 1954 and 1999, mountain hare populations deteriorated by up to 5% year-over-year. More alarmingly, these declines allegedly accelerated to 30% year-over-year from the years between 1999 and 2017.
The severe population losses can be attributed to a variety of factors, but routine hare culling conducted by gamekeepers to control the spread of disease and ticks may have had the single most significant impact.
"Having counted mountain hares across the moors and high tops of the eastern Highlands since 1943, I find the decline in numbers of these beautiful animals both compelling and of great concern," said Dr. Adam Watson of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the lead author of the study.
Making matters worse, there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that mountain hare culls have any benefit for gamekeepers. That said, the devastation inflicted on Scottish Highlands-based mountain hare populations was both senseless and unnecessary.
"We need the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage to take action to help these iconic mammals of the hill—I hope they will listen to the voice of scientific research."
It’s more than evident from the numbers that the ever-shrinking mountain hare population in the Scottish Highlands can’t keep up with the relentless culls. The researchers call on local lawmakers to implement protections for the small mammals before it’s too late.