Volunteers are sought for the first national on-site survey to shed light on the distribution and numbers of the Scottish Mountain Hares. The survey, which starts today and will continue in 2021, urges mountain hikers, naturalists, and other outdoor enthusiasts to record the sightings of the charismatic animals along the way. No previous knowledge of wildlife studies is required to participate.
Mountain hare is Scotland’s only native hare and an important species in the Scottish hills. Gathering more specific information about them can help support conservation efforts.
There are concerns about the state of the mountain hare population and the potential impact of control measures. The sources of information available give a mixed picture of their conservation status, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions about population sizes and trends. Complicating the picture is their naturally cyclical populations, which can fluctuate ten times or more over a period of about nine to ten years.
This project is a partnership between NatureScot, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Mammal Society, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the James Hutton Institute. It builds on previous work to develop appropriate counting methods and seeks to complement these other counts in order to provide improved monitoring of arctic hares throughout their range in Scotland.
Mountain Hare, Copyright John S Nadin, from the Surfbirds Galleries
To participate, volunteers need a smartphone with the free Mammal Mapper app. This can be used to record mammals while walking anywhere in Scotland. It includes a built-in ID guide that participants can use to identify mammals they see, as well as a section on highland birds that can now also be recorded. The BTO website also shows the areas with the highest priority for monitoring mountain hares (www.bto.org/mountain-hares). Volunteers are encouraged to participate if Covid regional travel restrictions allow.
Fiona Mathews of the Mammal Society said: “Mountain hares are classified as Near Endangered by our recent UK Red List, highlighting the need for urgent action. Almost all British Mountain Hares can be found in Scotland, but in most regions we have very little information on how they are doing. That is why we urge the public to help with our new project. You don’t have to be a specialist. All you need is to be in the mountains with a smartphone. “
Rob Raynor, a mammal specialist at NatureScot, said, “A lot of people enjoy seeing mountain hares in the Scottish hills. Our priority is to make sure they stay a sight together. To do this, we need a better understanding of the existing population – something that this novel national survey will make possible by filling the knowledge gaps. It will give us a better picture of the number of mountain hares at the regional and national levels and help make decisions about how our native hare population can be conserved and conserved.
“We would like to encourage mountain hikers and anyone interested to contribute their sightings to this valuable project. We have an online training video and tutorial in the app, so attendees who are unsure whether they can tell the difference between mountain hares, brown hares or rabbits can feel confident being on the hill. “
Ben Darvill of the BTO added, “Scotland’s outdoor enthusiasts can change our understanding of mountain hares through this simple survey. It’s easy to log rabbit sightings while out in the hills, and avid attendees can also record the highland birds they see too. We hope that the project will add a pleasant extra dimension to outdoor adventures. “
The survey information is compiled by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Mammal Society and summary data is made publicly available. The data will contribute to a broader arctic hare surveillance scheme using other methods, e.g. B. Night counts with spotlights, and are used to better understand how the number of mountain hares changes.