Ten wildlife and conservation organisations are calling for a three-year ban on the culling of mountain hares on Scotland’s grouse moors.
But gamekeepers say culling the animals protects red grouse from the tick-borne louping ill virus.
The groups say there is a lack of scientific evidence to support the claim that culling hares protects grouse.
Simon Jones of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, one of the groups campaigning for a moratorium, said: “We, along with the other organisations, are calling for a three year ban, to allow time for all those involved to take stock of the longer term impacts of large scale culling.
“Once the results of the study have been published we will then be able to identify the best ways to monitor mountain hare populations and measure the impact that management is having on their conservation status.”
However, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association have branded the proposed ban as “environmentally irresponsible” and have offered £1000 to conservation groups, if these groups can show their management produces more mountain hares than grouse moors.
It is anti-grouse shooting publicity, gone wrong.Scottish Gamekeepers Association
The reward is being extended to all ten conservation groups who yesterday made headlines by calling for a three year ban on the culling of mountain hares.
A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the group making the reward offer, said: “If the conservation groups have real and genuine concern about the iconic mountain hare, we are confused as to why they provide very little management to benefit mountain hares on the ground managed by themselves.
“By adopting proper heather management, they could have the same numbers of mountain hares on their ground as are presently found on grouse moors, yet this is not done.
“Instead an inaccurate image is painted that mountain hares are endangered...”
The ten organisations calling for the three year ban are: Highland Foundation for Wildlife, John Muir Trust, National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Scottish Raptor Study Group, The Scottish Wildlife Trust, The Mammal Society and The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group