Cairngorms authority urges restraint in culling hares
The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) has backed calls for restraint in the culling of mountain hares.
The organisation has issued a statement after the Sunday Herald reported claims of hundreds of hares being shot.
Mountain hares can be shot for sport and they are also culled as part of the management of grouse moors.
CNPA said the park had a "good population" of hares but asked landowners to ensure culls were properly managed.
The park authority said it believed a cull cited in the newspaper report was an annual managed cull.
One of the reasons for shooting the animals is because the hares carry sheep ticks which can infect the game birds with a disease called the louping ill virus.
Also known as blue hares, Scotland has almost all of the British mountain hare population.
They are Britain's only native hare and may have been here since the Ice Age.
The brown hare, which can be seen on farmland across Scotland, was introduced to Britain possibly by the Romans or during the Iron Age.
Heather moorland managed for grouse shooting provides the best habitat for mountain hare, according to public agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
However, SNH, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Scottish Land and Estates have asked shooting estates to limit large-scale culls because of concerns about the species' conservation status.
An effort also started last year to provide clearer information on the health of hare populations.
Online there is a public petition seeking support for the mountain hare to be given protected species status. It has gathered more than 11,600 signatures so far.
Hamish Trench, director of conservation and visitor experience at CNPA, said the park authority had also previously set out its concerns about the balance of moorland species and habitat management.
He said: "Observation suggests there is a good population of mountain hares in the Cairngorms and the managed moorlands provide a good habitat for them.
"We back the current research project which is working with estates in the national park to establish better counts."
Mr Trench added: "In this case we understand the hare cull was part of a planned annual management cull.
"We recognise the public concern about the scale of culls and this emphasises the need for good information on populations and restraint in line with SNH's advice in the meantime.
"In particular we expect moorland managers to ensure any culls do not threaten the conservation status of mountain hares."