The Rare Hare

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A dying breed

In a bid to relieve some pressure and capture some more of  the summer while it is still with us, I headed out West for a run up the Merrick on Monday afternoon. Perhaps “run” is an exaggeration, but I am sufficiently enthused by the idea of fell-racing to up the tempo on my walks to a moderately brisk shamble. The Merrick is no mean piece of hill, and at 850m it falls just short of munro status. It took just less than an hour and a half to reach the summit from Glen Trool, and as I lay in gasping ruins by the trig point, I looked down over some of the wildest country in Southern Scotland.

Vast, granite crags, deep lochans and swathes of dark heather rolled away to the far horizon, and turning slowly in a circle, I could see almost everything from Argyllshire’s Cruachan and Jura to the Lake District and Ireland. This is a fine, majestic place, made all the more special by its remoteness. By the time I had returned to the car, I had covered twelve miles and seen not a single human being. This is also one of the heartlands of the new Golden Eagle reintroduction scheme which has landed vast funding in the last few months.

I’ve written several times about this project (e.g. HERE in 2015 and HERE in 2016) but my attitude is generally that if we worked to conserve prey species in the Southern Uplands, golden eagles would not have to be brought in by human beings – they would simply recolonise under their own steam. I seem to be howling at the moon with this perspective, and modern conservation is so heavily predicated on a kind of headline-grabbing “superstar” project that I’m tempted just to switch off and accept the fact that crucial budgets are being routinely sluiced down the drain.

However, it must be said that as I descended from the Merrick down the Eastern face, I disturbed a single young mountain hare. These animals are few and far between in these hills, and it is their fundamental scarcity which makes the golden eagle project so ludicrous. Eagles depend on hares in many parts of the highlands, and I am continually astounded by the amount of money and effort spent on apex predators in the Southern Uplands without ever thinking of their key prey species. A project to rejuvenate mountain hares in Galloway would pay dividends for both eagles hen harriers (which love small leverets), but there is no appetite for this kind of grassroots project because it’s costly, slow and lacks a punchy one-line summary to sell to the general public.

I have only seen a handful of mountain hares in Galloway in over ten years of roaming the hills, including trips where I have specifically been looking for them. The fact that I was so pleased to see this youngster reflects the unavoidable truth that without management or consideration, these hills have become horribly bare.


2 thoughts on “The Rare Hare

  1. Colin

    I am no raptor expert but do have a passion for golden eagles in the galloway hills and I totally agree with your views on the lack of pray. I often go up to near there breeding site (which took me a few years of treks to find) and just sit for hours on the hill, sometimes not even seeing them but often get great views, I just love them. There’s a not bad population of hares around craiglea Hill, finals, Loch doon area I have seen plenty there. Haven’t saw any around the merrick, Loch Enoch, awful hand area. Always saw grouse around those areas to but not in great numbers. Loads of red deer around is the only plus for carrion. I would love to see lynx introduced into the galloway forest, might kill a few hares but the extra carrion from deer kills would surely help. On a good note pine marten are now present in good numbers right up to the dalmellington area. I even saw one when fishing at waterside on the river doon a couple weeks ago in an area with very few trees. Great blogs keep up the good work

  2. Gary

    From someone who spent time in the Galloways hills stalking, including on one of the properties where Golden Eagles struggled to rear young I find it unbelievable that SNH have licensed this project given the project doesn’t comply with the IUCN’s guide lines on translocation and the previous translocation of sending 70 young Scottish Golden Eagles to Ireland for nearly 60 to die and the remaining birds left struggling to rear young due to lack of food. So now more young eagles are likely to die in the Galloway hills and what about the threat of young starving eagles predating Peregrine nests which they will do if found short of food. As you’ve stated, habitat management should be the key focus but then that doesn’t draw press attention which seems to be the main focus of this kind of project as it did with the Langholm Moor Demo Project, another waste of time and public money.

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