Initiative will study hares on Speyside
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.