NEW RECOMMENDATIONS have been made to build a national approach to counting mountain hares across Scotland.

Two reports published by Scottish Natural Heritage this May make recommendations on this approach, developing volunteer-based surveys outside the main core area of the central Highlands, resources and support, and training.

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which established and implemented a training programme following the publication by SNH of a commissioned report on counting methodology in early 2018, has welcomed these reports.

Head of policy Ross Macleod said: “In 2018 GWCT discussed national monitoring scheme proposals with SNH which we then built into training guidance, with SNH attending the pilot training course.

“Since autumn 2018 we have trained 60 estates for night-time counting and set up over 80 count sites either on, overlapping, adjacent or close to those proposed for the national monitoring scheme. This work is ongoing.

“We have received counts from the last two winters to a consistent format and have provided summary results of these to SNH, covering 35 counts in 2018-19 and 40 counts in 2019-20, with repeat surveys beginning to build up," he continued. "We expect count numbers to grow and have made it easier to make returns by introducing smart phone technology to submit counts.

“Results to date appear to confirm that standard day-time counts record only a fraction of the numbers of mountain hares as those recorded on night-time counts," said Mr macleod. "The methodology we have adopted for training involves night-time counting by spotlight along fixed transects.

“It is important that counts across all of the mountain hare range are encouraged so that the resultant picture of conservation status is as accurate as possible. We recognise the challenges and benefits of pooling information identified in the reports and will work towards practical solutions. As such, any citizen-science type counts proposed for areas where the night-time counting methodology cannot be undertaken would need to be as robust and consistent in approach if they are to form more than a random collection of sightings,” he added.