Ini­tia­tive will study hares on Spey­side

The Oban Times - - FARMING -

SPEY­SIDE game­keep­ers are work­ing with sci­en­tists to de­velop the best way to count the iconic moun­tain hare and help in­form its fu­ture con­ser­va­tion.

Man­ag­ing moun­tain hare num­bers to pre­vent dis­ease, dam­age to trees and habi­tats, and to con­trol ris­ing tick num­bers is a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue within the Cairn­gorms Na­tional Park.

Crit­ics of pop­u­la­tion man­age­ment fear Scot­land’s only na­tive lago­morph may have suf­fered de­clines in some re­gions and this has led to calls for greater mon­i­tor­ing of the way the species is man­aged and their num­bers.

Now game­keep­ers on three Spey­side es­tates are as­sist­ing sci­en­tists from the James Hut­ton In­sti­tute, Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage and Game and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Trust on a project to help guide fu­ture man­age­ment.

The three-year project aims to as­sess the most re­li­able method for land man­agers and game­keep­ers to mon­i­tor pop­u­la­tion num­bers so hares can be man­aged sus­tain­ably.

Moun­tain hares are no­to­ri­ously prob­lem­atic to count and day­light- only sur­veys of­ten of­fer a lim­ited in­di­ca­tion of ac­tual num­bers on the ground.

Keep­ers at Glen­lochy, mem­bers of Spey­side Moor­land Group, have been help­ing project sci­en­tists iden­tify and use areas of their heather moor­land to en­able mean­ing­ful data to be col­lected.

These es­tates have also agreed to halt pop­u­la­tion man­age­ment around the study area while sur­vey­ors count the same ground both in day­time and at night us­ing ther­mal cam­eras, and count dung de­posited by hares whilst also trap­ping hares to be marked and re­cap­tured.

It is hoped the fi­nal anal­y­sis, to be pre­sented later this year, will help en­sure man­age­ment of the hares is sus­tain­able and poses no long-term threat to re­gional pop­u­la­tions.

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