The NGO are delighted to see that the Peak District's mountain hares are thriving, and that the work keepers and landowners do to improve and restore their habitats is working.

At the beginning of this year, the NGO produced a video on a Peak District Mountain Hare survey which had been carried out by the GWCT and the Peak District Moorland Group. The hares were monitored using a new counting methodology developed in Scotland alongside the James Hutton Institute and NatureScot, with counting undertaken at night. The results indicated that their population appears to be in good health, and the surveying work has led to similar densities of mountain hares being counted in the Peak District as there are found in their core range in Scotland.

More recently, a second report into Mountain Hare populations has appeared, on the surface, to dispute some of the findings from the PDMG study.  

While the GWCT and gamekeepers found healthy densities of Mountain Hares on grouse moors, the study from Manchester Metropolitan University found relatively low densities compared to the ‘restored peatland habitat’ they surveyed. This resulted in headlines announcing that the Peak District Mountain Hares “could be facing extinction”; a very different finding from that of the GWCT/PDMG survey. That headline is, for starters, fairly misleading. Like the GWCT/PDMG survey, the MMU study concluded that the Peak District population was in strong health and within the boundaries of previous population estimates.

There will always be a degree of scientific disagreement surrounding data collection and methodology, but the NGO and our partner organisations hold two major concerns with the MMU study that we will be taking up with them.

Firstly, the study’s simplicity in grouping land blocks. For decades, work has been carried out to rewet and restore damaged peatlands, which had suffered due to government encouragement to drain moors in the post-war years, as well as industrial pollution. Peatland restoration has been carried out across the Peak District, both privately funded and publicly, and on moors where grouse-shooting takes place, and ones where it doesn’t. To ignore this fact is to do a disservice to all those individuals and organisations dedicated to returning the Peak District to good health: shooting grouse is not an obstacle to peatland restoration; in fact it is often a key driver.  

Secondly, in March 2021 the study lead at Manchester Metropolitan University was contacted to see if a meeting with the Peak District Moorland Group and gamekeepers could be arranged, with a view to help support hare counts on grouse moors. This offer was declined by some of the project’s funders, as it was felt that meeting gamekeepers could be seen as ‘taking sides’ and some funders may have felt ‘disgruntled’.

We believe that the study would have been improved had it had more involvement with the shooting community, many of whom spend every day of the year on the moors, and see for themselves where the Mountain Hares are, and in what numbers.

Overall both studies present good news for the mountain hare. The NGO, and the various organisations who all worked on the Peak District Mountain Hare survey are delighted to see that they are thriving, and that the work keepers and landowners do to improve and restore their habitats, including through sustainable grouse moor management, is working.

We hope that future studies into their population will enable all interested parties to work together for the benefit of this iconic species. Neither of these studies provides evidence that the designation of the mountain hare requires change, and we look forward to learning more about their populations through future PDMG hare surveys. Ideally, we believe that there should be an agreed hare monitoring methodology endorsed by Natural England, as there is in Scotland, with NatureScot.

 

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