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February 7, 2012

Protection for Hares Introduced in Scotland

Humane Society International/UK

The first of February 2012 saw a watershed for hare protection in Scotland.

The introduction of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011 makes it an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take brown hares from 1 February to 30 September, and mountain hares from 1 March to 31 July.

Speaking during the Scottish Rural Affairs and Environment Committee on 22 December 2010, Roseanna Cunningham, the then Environment Minister, said: “We have introduced close seasons for hares to provide greater protection at times of greatest welfare concern.”

The new legislation brings Scotland in line with Northern Ireland and much of mainland Europe where similar laws are already in place. In England however, hares still lack any such protection.

Hares under threat

The UK hare population has declined by an estimated at 80 percent in the last century.

In 1995, as part of the Species Action Plan (SAP) for brown hares, the government set a target to double spring numbers in Britain by 2010. In June 2011, Environment Minister Richard Benyon admitted that this had not been achieved.

The failure to reach the SAP target shows that more action urgently needs to be taken to protect hares and to help encourage the increase in the existing population envisaged by the government.

Suffering of young hares

Young hares, or leverets, rely on their nursing mothers for at least the first 30 days of their lives. Should the mother be killed during this time, these dependent youngsters will starve and die. With close to 400,000 hares shot each year in the UK, and without protection during the breeding and nursing season, tens of thousands of young hares in England will continue to suffer a terrible fate.

Members of Parliament in Westminster are supporting an Early Day Motion calling on the government to support a close season in England.

HSI UK is urging the Westminster government to provide much needed protection, without delay, to prevent the needless suffering of young hares, and to help the government meet its own conservation targets.

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