We’re delighted to host another guest post from author and campaigner Bob Berzins. Bob lives on the edge of the Peak District. Climbing on gritstone crags and running over the moorlands has brought him a deep understanding and appreciation of the Pennine uplands. He’s worked with activists and wildlife charities, spoken to police of all ranks and crime commissioners in an effort to improve the plight of wildlife in the National Park. He has also trained and worked as a counsellor which has helped him bring psychological depth to his writing. We reviewed Bob’s excellent first novel ‘Snared’ here.
Header image by Craig Jones (craigjoneswildlifephotography.co.uk/)
Mountain Hares – Can they survive alongside Driven Grouse Shooting?
Carlos Bedson has nearly completed his PhD research into Peak District Mountain Hares and contacted me to seek data on human-caused mortality. I look forward to his research being published in 2022 but there is a pressing need right now to give mountain hares conservation protection so please sign this Parliamentary Petition.
The fate of mountain hares is subject to the same spin, falsehoods and lies we hear regularly from those champions of conservation: the grouse shooting Industry. Just as every gamekeeper is supposedly a friend of raptors, we also hear they’re the friends of hares. A propaganda video from the Gift Of Grouse [https://fb.watch/6cCWJHu4K2/] has a caption of “There’s no shortage of mountain hare on land managed for grouse shooting due to predator control and healthy moorland” – all in an area with a well-documented history of large scale mountain hare killing. Some of the online moderators at Hare Preservation Trust thought the video showed hares being rounded up for slaughter and wanted the video to be deleted. Instead it was the moderators who were removed from their posts.
The list of species which gamekeepers leave alone is a short one indeed: waders of course, but not much else. For raptors, statistics are selectively used: for a bird like peregrine, they’d happily quote the thriving populations in the White Peak, not the lack of birds in the grouse shooting Dark Peak. Merlin are generally left alone – sometimes weighing as little as 160g they’re not seen as a threat to grouse. So we hear lots about the success of merlin on driven grouse moors. Several MPs in the recent parliamentary debate made a point of telling us merlin numbers had doubled on grouse moors.
Mountain hares can carry a disease called Louping Ill, which can affect grouse, but the prevalence of Louping Ill is very low in the Peak District. But just the possibility of affecting grouse is all the excuse that’s needed. Then as well, dead hares make wonderful bait for snares, Larsen traps, ladder traps and spring traps and as long as these traps are tucked away, no one will see.
The Shooting Industry has used this spin to win over charities and NGOs as well as their friends in Government. The purpose of this blog is to reveal the true nature of Grouse Shooting culture in the Peak District.
One of the major factors for the wellbeing of any animal is habitat change. Landscapes are evolving in the climate emergency but as well, there’s been a huge positive change in the Peak District with successful moorland restoration. Fifteen years ago many of the higher moors were devoid of vegetation because of acid rain, overgrazing and burning and looked like this:
Moors for the Future have done an amazing job to restore these areas not just with grasses but sphagnum and dwarf shrubs helped by the removal of sheep. So around 100km2 of restored high moorland now provide what must be ideal habitat and grazing for mountain hare. But the anecdotal evidence is no noticeable increase in hare numbers.
I’m sure Carlos will provide detail on all the factors involved but the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species tell us “Direct threats to mountain hares include heavy traffic on several major trunk roads, hunting and persecution.”
Carlos Bedson has split his research area into four sub-areas: Northern Moors (150 km2), Kinder (80 km2), Bleaklow (100km2) and Derwent Edges (90 km2). The Northern Moors are separated from the rest by the A628 Woodhead Pass and Kinder is to the south of the A57 Snake Pass.
The A628 in particular is a major Trans-Pennine route and the Peak Park has done a good job so far of resisting calls for a major upgrade to these routes, with a dual carriageway and tunnel the latest proposal: “Unless there is a clear, well evidenced demonstration that a scheme is in the public interest which clearly outweighs any negative effects on the National Park, along with an understanding of the impacts and the ability to mitigate these impacts and provide additional enhancement, the Authority must register its objections to those major road and rail schemes within the National Park”. The bad news is the Conservation Director who said that has just been made redundant.
Natural England have a Biodiversity Action Plan for mountain hares which includes: “Reduce road mortality, especially if major roadworks are proposed through suitable mitigation.” If this road is ever built, will we see Nature Bridges? You’ll see below that this would probably lead to more persecution for a number of species because they’ll be a very easy target around those crossings.
It would be nice to think the 2004 Hunting Act stopped packs of dogs chasing and killing foxes and hares. But continued evidence from Hunt Saboteurs shows this persecution continues almost 12 months of the year. The Peak District is no exception. Beagles are used and their purpose is to hunt hares [See – Hunting on Protected Sites – Another Natural England Cover Up? ]. I don’t like to get close to hunt packs especially when I’m on my own but these are some of the vehicles used on hunt days when the dogs were close by on moorland. Hunting has been recorded on all the northeast grouse moors.
Gamekeepers are skilled at killing and hiding evidence. They use quad bikes and All Terrain Vehicles to cover large distances when no one else is around. Finding direct evidence of any wildlife crime is a matter of chance. The research paper Raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park looks at historical levels of peregrine and goshawk, comparing those to the dearth of raptors today. The only possible reason for this is deliberate persecution but there have been no prosecutions in that area. There was a change of gamekeeper at one estate and the new incumbent “allowed” a goshawk nest to succeed to much fanfare [lMajestic Predators return to the Sheffield Lakeland]. His predecessor made sure the nest, in a prime goshawk territory, failed every year. What a sorry state of affairs: we rely on the whim of a gamekeeper for the success or failure of protected raptors. But in the same area of the northeast Peak in 2020 another goshawk nest failed with gamekeepers seen nearby and of course no prosecution.
Unlike the raptors, English mountain hares have no protection in law but they are seen as one of the iconic species of the National Park. In 2015 they were openly used as bait near snares
And in ladder traps (large crow cage traps), in numbers that could only be the result of deliberate persecution.
I helped League Against Cruel Sports get publicity, not only for runners [Runners injured in animal snares] caught and injured in snares but also for the huge number of mountain hares that were found. This resulted in a change of gamekeeper behaviour with hares not generally being used as bait anymore and ladder traps staying open and unused.
But Christmas Eve 2016 was an exception with these hares in a stink pit next to snares. Did this gamekeeper just happen to find 3 hares that had died of natural causes close to this snare site? Seems impossible doesn’t it?
Grouse moor managers will happily tell you how essential it is to trap foxes in snares so we can have increased curlew populations. What they don’t tell you and what our legal system completely fails to address is that snares are lethal traps for hares.
In 2017 the Hunt Investigation Team filmed this hare [HIT’s Moscar Footage Library] trapped in a snare and screaming in agony.
Despite every effort, the hare died. A post mortem determined the cause of death as severe internal bleeding and shock. The post mortem photographs are extremely graphic but show clearly the internal blood loss due to trauma from the snare loop, even when the wire hasn’t cut through the flesh. It’s impossible to determine how many hares die in this way because of a lack of external signs. Snare sites on the moorland fringe as well as those on open moorland will kill mountain hares.
Grouse shooting moors are littered in spring traps, used apparently to catch stoats. By law these traps must be covered and are set in tunnels or on a log across a stream (rail trap). This very decayed hare had crawled into this “natural” stone tunnel, set by a gamekeeper.
The tunnel contained a Fenn Trap which caught the hare by the front paw and the hare died as a result.
It seems deliberate that the law is vague on the use of these traps – so that prosecutions are virtually impossible. Fenn traps are still not illegal, they’re just inhumane for killing stoats, but its fine to use them on other animals. Tunnel entrances “should” be restricted to target species but no measurements are specified so gamekeepers can do what they like. This new Perdix trap, set on a log was declared legal by the police even though it’s obvious any number of bird or animal species could get past the nails and into the trap tunnel. A paw or a beak on the trap plate would result in an agonising death.
So welfare standards for spring traps have not improved, despite new legislation and mountain hares along with other birds and animals will suffer and die because of intentional neglectfulness by gamekeepers.
And then there are blatantly illegal traps such as this uncovered Fenn trap from 2019, found close to where Hen Harrier Octavia disappeared. The leveret did not survive.
These mountain hare limbs were found as bait in a line of tunnel traps in 2020.
Of course the gamekeeper could have scoured the hills for hares that had died of natural causes, or diligently tidied up roadkill. But that really doesn’t seem very likely when hares are readily killed in traps or shot opportunistically as we have seen in Scotland.
In terms of a scientific paper, the evidence I’ve presented here doesn’t quantify the number of mountain hare mortalities due to human causes. There is no video footage of gamekeepers shooting mountain hares but then again there’s no footage of them shooting raptors either. So we’re left to explain the gaps in our skies, our missing birds and mammals.
Spend time in the uplands and it’s obvious what’s happening.
We need to shine a light to clear the wilful blindness of charities, NGOs and the authorities towards their “friends” the grouse moor owners.