I came across some interesting claims on the website of the Hare Preservation Trust about the way the game industry in Scotland impacts upon the Hare population there. The HPT claim that:
There is increasing concern about the status of the mountain hare with reports of it being virtually extinct in some parts of Scotland where it was previously abundant. In some areas excessive grazing by deer, sheep and cattle have depleted the heather so that less food and cover is available for the hares. However, they have also declined on moorland devoid of deer and sheep, leading to the conclusion that human interference is responsible for the decline in hares.
The mountain hare is listed in Annex 5 of the EC Habitats Directive (1992) as a species: "of community interest whose taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management measures." This means that certain methods of capture such as snaring are prohibited, except under licence. Mountain hares have historically been considered as "small game" but shooting is becoming increasingly commercialised. In one case a refrigerated van had been brought over by a party of Italian guns who intended to shoot 1,000 mountain hares and sell them in Italy to pay for the shooting holiday.
While the mountain hare is persecuted directly for sport it is also snared and shot in large numbers because it allegedly carries a tick borne virus which kills grouse chicks and is therefore seen as a threat to the grouse shooting industry. The Habitats Directive requires member states to ensure exploitation of Annex 5 species is: "compatible with their being maintained at a favourable conservation status." Since there are no official records of the number of hares being killed it is difficult to see how this requirement can be met. But anecdotal evidence of culling levels strongly suggests that EC wildlife law is being broken in Scotland.
I read claims like this and I see an industry and a group of people who seem to be able to operate in any way they see fit in order to protect their profits. You have to wonder how much more of this small island's natural heritage is to be sacrificed on the altar of profit (or in the name of sport).