Group seeks to reassure public on mountain hare culls
An organisation representing landowners has sought to reassure the public on the culling of mountain hares.
The Scottish Moorland Group has responded to concerns raised earlier this month about the shooting of the animals in the Cairngorms.
The cull prompted the Cairngorms National Park Authority to call for restraint in the culling of hares.
Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, said culls were lawful and only done when numbers were high.
He said the animals were taken to control the spread of sheep ticks to grouse and to prevent damage to young trees and rare plantlife such as juniper and sphagnum moss.
Mr Baynes said: "We wish to reassure people that when culls are taking place there is no question of the population being 'wiped out'.
"Responsible culling of a range of species, including hares, is recognised and supported by a wide range of conservation bodies.
"There has been an issue raised by some about the scale of culling and it should be made clear that no responsible organisation supports indiscriminate culling.
"Within moorland management voluntary restraint is exercised and hares are only culled when numbers are at a high enough level to require it. There is no point in culling hares, or indeed any desire to, if there could be any risk to their conservation status."
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 - which is involved in the Scottish Moorland Group - 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 12,500 signatures so far.