It is the natural variability of mountain hare numbers and the absence of a national mountain hare count rather than any clear evidence of major declines resulting from hunting, as suggested inaccurately by the RSPB, that has led to the change of status for mountain hares in the report.
Data from hunting records across Europe have shown that mountain hare numbers tend to fluctuate in cycles. The characteristics of these cycles vary, but typically the population can fluctuate from below half to almost double the average population size every 4 -15 years. The most recent population estimate in the UK ranges between 81,000 and 526,000 hares.
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has found robust mountain hare numbers using SNH approved count methods close to sites that the report to which the RSPB refers states as having zero hare abundance.
Moreover, research from GWCT published in 2019 demonstrates that mountain hares are most widespread in north-eastern Scotland on managed grouse moors, where their numbers can be up to 35 times higher than areas where grouse are not shot. Early results from other work conducted by GWCT indicates range contraction in south-west Scotland and on estates with no grouse shooting interest, compared to range increases in north-east Scotland on estates managed for grouse shooting.
Habitat change resulting from loss of moorland to forestry and increasing predation in areas where no control takes place should be the primary concern to everyone with an interest in the conservation status of mountain hares.
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