Mountain Hares

Submission to the Scottish Government on Petition PE01859 concerning Falconry and Mountain Hares.
Dr Nick Fox OBE and Helen Nakielny BA, PGDL
International Wildlife Consultants Ltd

‘Recklessly kill’

The key point is whether flying a bird of prey in an area with Mountain Hares constitute the possibility that the Falconer might ‘recklessly kill’ a Schedule 5 protected species within the meaning of Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

NatureScot says 1. The Falconer must have permission of the land-owner, 2. The Falconer must take reasonable precautions to ensure that there are only few if any mountain hares on the land, 3. The Falconer did not foresee, or could not reasonably foresee that the eagle might take a mountain hare, and 4.The Falconer took all practical steps to minimise the damage eg by recalling the eagle as soon as reasonably practicable. NatureScot then specified where in Scotland Mountain Hares are at a ‘high’ density, and where they are at a ‘low’ density.

Police Scotland agree and add ‘If the Falconers had carried out due diligence … and thereafter a Mountain Hare was taken by a bird of prey, then this could be considered accidental. Police should be notified of the incident and thereafter the area should not be used for exercise again. If thereafter this area was used for exercise purposes again, and a further Mountain Hare was taken, then this could be considered reckless.’ They go on: By choosing to exercise a bird of prey in an area with a known high population of Mountain Hare, then the act could be described as reckless.’

But most birds and mammals are protected and together they cover the entire area of Scotland. Based on the above, clearly it would be ‘reckless’ to fly a raptor anywhere in Scotland. Dogs and cats are also exercised in Scotland and  not only kill Mountain Hares but also a wide range of protected species.

Let’s try this out in reality. I live in Calston, Glasgow.  I go into the police station to report that my cat has caught a chaffinch in my garden. Imagine what the over-worked duty officer will say! So I complain to my MSP, Patrick Harvie, that the police refuse to open a file on me.

It’s not only ridiculous; Falconry is being discriminated against in favour of dogs and cats.

A Failure of Due Process.

The Bill went through Stage 3 without consulting the falconry community prior to enactment. So we do not accept that the placing of the Mountain Hare on Schedule 5 was lawful, nor that the discrimination against Falconers  in favour of cat-keepers is lawful.

I respectfully remind you of the Scottish Parliament responsibilities:

The Scotland Act 1998: “the prevention, elimination or regulation of discrimination between persons on grounds of sex or marital status, on racial grounds, or on grounds of disability, age, sexual orientation, language or social origin, or of other personal attributes, including beliefs or opinions, such as religious beliefs or political opinions.”

The Equality Act 2010 requires ‘due regard’ to :

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination
  • advance equality of opportunity
  • foster good relations

These are also known as the Scottish Specific Duties.

And the United Nations Human Rights gives clear guidance on the rights of cultural minorities such as Falconers.

The new law allows licences for ‘social purposes’. The Scottish Government  already allows killing Mountain Hares for economic and environmental reasons. Falconry is a qualifying social reason.

However, the proposed benefits would still have to be significant. This is taken to mean that the activity proposed will achieve, or contribute towards, a social, economic or environmental benefit of some note. In other words the benefits must not be minor, and should concern projects of recognised importance.

Cultural significance

NatureScot’s view (March 2023) is: One area discussed was whether Falconry is of sufficient cultural significance to fit (the) any other social, economic or environmental purpose. NatureScot’s view is that hunting mountain hares with birds of prey is not widely practised enough in Scotland to satisfy this purpose.

NatureScot is not a qualified authority on anthropological aspects and cultural activities.

There was no consideration of Scotland’s cultural heritage.  Falconry is of international importance being practised in over 80 countries. The cultural heritage of Falconry equipment making is on the Red List of Endangered Crafts . Falconry is a legitimate activity, a Protected Belief, and is inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind. Falconry is part of Scotland’s cultural heritage, having been practised here for 1300 years.  In 2011 ICH Scotland was created to underpin UNESCO ICH so now falconry in Scotland has its own ICH recognition.

It is a significant social benefit and there is no other satisfactory solution. Banning it is obviously not a solution. A General Licence for Falconry does not create a precedent. Scotland has no accountability to rein in frivolous regulations. Licensing is an administrative burden, a waste of time and unenforceable. Estimates vary, but about 100,000-400,000 hares are bred each year. Therefore we do not consider that a case has been made that Falconry is impacting Mountain Hare populations and a General Licence is appropriate.

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