Peak District Mountain Hare population in good health, new study shows

A new study into mountain hare densities in the Peak District has shown that their population looks to be in good health, and could in fact be up to five times higher than recent estimates of mountain hare densities have suggested. These Mountain Hares are the only surviving population in England, and with gamekeepers having worked hard to conserve and manage their moorland habitat ever since they were reintroduced in the 1800s, the fact that they are doing so well is a testament to the important conservation work that these moorland keepers do. 

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The study was undertaken by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), with the monitoring undertaken by the Peak District Moorland Group, whose members have reported regular mountain hare sightings across 16 estates covering 240km2 within the Dark Peak area of the National Park. Those monitoring the hares used a new counting methodology developed in Scotland alongside the James Hutton Institute and NatureScot, and counting was undertaken at night using specialised equipment. This is now considered the best practice standard to survey this nocturnal species.

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation produced a video to reflect the findings, highlighting both the importance of the iconic mountain hare as a species, and reinforcing the vital importance of following the science when it comes to reporting on populations of any species. The Peak District is the only place in England where Mountain Hares exist, and we are delighted at the findings of this new nocturnal survey, which followed on from previous unverified reports that this population was ‘at risk’. The study undertaken by GWCT was an attempt to establish the facts; gamekeepers working in the area believed that Mountain Hares were abundant, and there were concerns about knee-jerk reactions (such as a moving them onto schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) on the basis of inaccurate reporting. 

With all of that in mind, the Peak District Moorland Group (PDMG), National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO), Moorland Association (MA) and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) believed it was vital to establish the facts, using best practice, and collecting data in the most reliable and scientific way possible. GWCT trained the Peak District gamekeepers in the counting methodology mentioned above, which is the best practice method of counting Mountain Hare populations.  

The population levels found in the survey suggest that the numbers of hares recorded by gamekeepers may be equivalent to a population density of around 52-126 Mountain Hares per km2. This is a similar population level to those recorded within the Mountain Hare’s core range in Scotland this year. 

This just goes to show that Peak District Mountain Hares, which were reintroduced to the area in the 1800s by shooting estates, are thriving thanks to a combination of the hard work and grouse moor management carried out by gamekeepers, and the high altitude and cold climate of the area which this species favours. 

“Mountain hares are predominantly nocturnal animals, so it makes sense that the night time counts are providing more successful and reliable population estimates than day time counts”, explained Richard Bailey of the Peak District Moorland Group coordinator who helped arrange the surveys.

“This population of mountain hares has survived thanks to the habitat management and predator control undertaken by gamekeepers in the Dark Peak area. This research confirms that the hard work is still benefitting the species.”

The full report into the GWCT’s findings can be found below:

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