Two reports made available this week by Scottish Natural Heritage highlight the components required to build a national approach to counting mountain hares across Scotland. The two reports make recommendations on approach, developing volunteer-based surveys outside the main core area of the central highlands, resources and support, and training.
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), which established and implemented a training programme following the publication by SNH of a commissioned report on counting methodology in early 2018, has welcomed these reports. Ross Macleod, Head of Policy, Scotland, GWCT, said:
“In 2018 GWCT discussed national monitoring scheme proposals with SNH which we then built into training guidance, with SNH attending the pilot training course.
“Since autumn 2018 we have trained 60 estates for night-time counting and set up over 80 count sites either on, overlapping, adjacent or close to those proposed for the national monitoring scheme. This work is ongoing.
“We have received counts from the last two winters to a consistent format and have provided summary results of these to SNH, covering 35 counts in 2018-19 and 40 counts in 2019-20, with repeat surveys beginning to build up. We expect count numbers to grow and have made it easier to make returns by introducing smart phone technology to submit counts.
“Results to date appear to confirm that standard day-time counts record only a fraction of the numbers of mountain hares as those recorded on night-time counts. The methodology we have adopted for training involves night-time counting by spotlight along fixed transects.
“It is important that counts across all of the mountain hare range are encouraged so that the resultant picture of conservation status is as accurate as possible. We recognise the challenges and benefits of pooling information identified in the reports and will work towards practical solutions. As such, any citizen-science type counts proposed for areas where the night-time counting methodology cannot be undertaken would need to be as robust and consistent in approach if they are to form more than a random collection of sightings.”
The two SNH reports can be accessed as below:
Notes to editors
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is an independent wildlife conservation charity which carries out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats. We employ 22 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse.
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Telephone: 0131 445 5570