Mountain hares are a separate species to the brown hare, with a distribution in upland habitats of the UK, and largely turn white in winter to blend in with snow. The vast majority of the current UK population is in Scotland. Mountain hares were present across the country until around 4000 B.C, then subsequently became extinct in England, probably due to climate change and the spread of woodland. The current Peak District population – the only mountain hares remaining in England - are derived from introductions from Perthshire to the northern Peak District in the 1870s and 1880s by landowners for sporting/game purposes.
Q. Are mountain hares protected?
A. Mountain hares are covered by several pieces of European and British law. These place a duty on government to maintain a healthy overall population of mountain hares.
These laws do not preclude the killing of individual mountain hares by legitimate means (please see details below) provided that is done in accordance with game laws.
Q. Are mountain hares killed in the Peak District National Park and does this affect the overall population?
A. Although originally introduced for sporting purposes in the late 1800s, mountain hares do not appear to be shot for sport in the Peak District National Park any longer. We are aware that control of mountain hares may take place across some private estates in the Peak District National Park, under game management laws. Some estates have chosen this course of action as a measure against tick-transmitted diseases – with mountain hares common hosts for ticks – and through which red grouse may become infected. Mountain hares are not controlled on land managed by the Peak District National Park Authority.
Numbers of mountain hares can naturally fluctuate and the main causes of mortality are hard winter weather and road casualties. Although deliberate killing is not thought to pose a significant risk to survival of the population as a whole, there are some concerns that it may suppress overall numbers and restrict the areas where Mountain hares are found. Studies are being carried out which may provide more information on the likely impacts of culling.
Q. What is the Peak District National Park Authority’s view on the killing of mountain hares?
A. Mountain Hares are one of the most iconic and best-loved species in the Peak District. Although (re)introduced they are widely regarded as a legitimate and highly valued part of the Peak District’s wildlife, being of conservation importance and contributing significantly to many people’s enjoyment of the National Park.
We do not believe the deliberate killing of mountain hares in the Peak District National Park is justified, based on the limited evidence that doing so reduces either ticks or incidences of tick-borne infection (and in turn, improves red grouse numbers). Whilst the National Park Authority cannot enforce against, or monitor incidents of mountain hare control, we urge landowners and managers to respect this iconic species of conservation concern within the National Park and not undertake culling.
Red grouse are a game species which can legally shot for a limited period each year from the 12 of August, outside of their breeding season. Grouse are restricted to upland moorland habitats in the Peak District National Park, and live on both moorlands that are directly managed for grouse shooting, and moorlands that are not.
Grouse shooting is an activity that takes place within the Peak District National Park, but not on land owned or managed by the National Park Authority (where sport shooting has not been permitted since 1981). There are two primary grouse shooting approaches; ‘walk up’ and ‘driven’ grouse shooting (sometimes referred to as DGS).
Walk-up grouse shooting involves a line of participants (usually with a gamekeeper at the centre), moving across moorland where grouse are present, sometimes accompanied by dogs.
Driven grouse shooting (DGS) typically involves participants based in static locations (or shooting ‘butts’) with gamekeepers and additional staff driving grouse towards these areas.
Q. Does the Peak District National Park Authority allow grouse/sport shooting in the National Park?
A. Land within the National Park is in the main, owned and managed privately. The National Park Authority itself owns less than 5% of the land area within the National Park boundary, and has not permitted sport shooting activities to take place on its properties since the early 1980s (except a handful of small sites where the Authority does not own the shooting rights). Legislation for the purposes of sport shooting on private land is set nationally, and not by National Park Authorities themselves at a local level.The National Park Authority has no legal or statutory role to regulate shooting other than on land it owns.
Q. Does upland management for grouse shooting have environmental benefits?
A. The National Park Authority considers that some aspects of grouse moor management can have a positive impact for the National Park. This includes; support for local economies through jobs and expenditure as a result of grouse shooting, protection of heathland and bog habitats from forestry and overgrazing (with the latter leading to reduced flood resilience), providing private sector investment in management and restoration of moorland habitats, and habitat management such as bracken control (which can take over other habitats of importance). Rotational heather management (which may include cutting or burning), can create more diverse heather habitat structures – benefitting birds and invertebrates - and potentially reduce the risk and severity of moorland wildfires. There is also evidence that ground-nesting birds of conservation importance such as curlew are vulnerable to predation, and that legal predator control can play an important - in some circumstances perhaps even vital - role in maintaining populations of such species.
Q. Is grouse shooting damaging?
A. We work to ensure that any activity in the Peak District National Park has as a positive impact on the National Park’s special qualities as far as possible, and that negative impacts are minimised.
Whilst grouse moor management can have environmental benefits if carried out appropriately, more intensive management can have negative impacts. These can include excessive heather burning or burning in inappropriate places (with impacts on carbon storage, water quality, flood risk and wildlife); the creation of vehicle access routes with consequent impact on habitats and landscape; inappropriate or illegal control of predators or other species such as mountain hare; restricting opportunities for creation of other upland habitats such as native woodland; restricting opportunities for species reintroductions; and the use of medicated grits, some of the impacts are which are still unknown.
Further information on moorland burning as part of grouse moor management can be found here.
Q. Does the Peak District National Park Authority support a ban on driven grouse shooting?
A. Many people have differing and strongly held views about grouse shooting, and for a variety of different reasons. As with many other activities, a landowner or occupier has the right to shoot grouse or permit others to shoot grouse on their land provided it is carried out within the law. It is the role of Government to determine legislation. The National Park Authority is not a campaigning body.
Q. Does the National Park Authority support grouse shooting?
A. The Authority neither supports nor opposes grouse shooting. We recognize that many activities, including sustainable moorland management for grouse, can make a positive contribution to conservation (see “Does grouse shooting have benefits?”), but can also have negative impacts if not carried out sensitively (see “Is grouse shooting damaging?”).
Q. How effective is the National Park Authority if it has no powers to regulate shooting in the National Park?
A. Much of what the Authority achieves to benefit the National Park is done in partnership with other organisations, individuals, communities and landowners. The moorlands of the Peak District National Park have benefited immensely from such partnerships with large areas of bare eroding peat stabilized and revegetated; natural water regimes restored; bog mosses reintroduced; and formerly scarce species returning to the moors.
Wildlife Crime and Predator Control
Q. What predators can be legally controlled?
A. Foxes, crows, magpies, stoats and weasels all have an impact on ground-nesting birds and can be controlled (killed or trapped) by legally specified means. Badgers and all birds of prey are legally protected and cannot be killed or trapped without a special license (e.g. as part of a Defra-licenced badger cull).
Q. Are snares legal?
A. Yes, provided their use complies with certain requirements governing animal welfare and minimizing the risk to non-target species. For further information on the use of traps and snares see:
If you suspect illegal use of, or operation of a snare, please report this to the police wildlife crime officer on 101. The Peak District National Park does not have a remit to monitor predator control measures in the National Park, and is not an enforcement body. It is not within the remit of the Authority to monitor or police these activities on privately-owned land, and again legislation for these items is set nationally.
Q. Are gas guns used to deter birds of prey from nesting on moorlands in the Peak District National Park?
A. Gas guns are used in the Peak District National Park to deter flocks of young ravens which can pose a threat to ground nesting birds and to farm livestock. There are concerns that they are used to deter birds of prey from nesting but there is no evidence that this is the case.
Q. Is the use of other methods to control predators legal?
A. Other trapping or deterrent methods that may be legally used include:
- Larsen Traps
- Mammal Cages (Fenn Traps)
- Gas guns
We expect that any use of these within the Peak District National Park is strictly in line with current legislation and industry best practice guidance. The Peak District National Park Authority does not enforce the use of predator control measures, nor has a remit to do so.
Q. Does the National Park Authority take a strong stance on wildlife crime?
A. The National Park Authority condemns all wildlife crime and supports the police in any investigation where we are asked to do so. We will not enter into speculation about who may have committed an offence in specific cases, which is the role of the police; however where particular problems are known or suspected we take action to help encourage responsible behaviour, deter illegal activity and secure prosecutions where necessary.
Reported and confirmed wildlife crime incidents within the Peak District may include the illegal shooting, poisoning or disturbance of birds of prey, the theft of eggs from nests, hare coursing, poaching and the use of banned wildlife management equipment. All of these represent criminal activity that is wholly unacceptable. We will continue to offer our full support and assistance to the police and other agencies as required.
Q. Why are there very low populations of birds of prey in parts of the Peak District National Park?
A. In some parts of the Peak District National Park there are very healthy populations of birds of prey; however over large areas of moorland some species are much scarcer than we would expect, and much scarcer than they have been previously. The available evidence suggests that for certain species- notably peregrine, goshawk and hen harrier - deliberate persecution is the most likely significant factor affecting the populations. For other species such as merlin and short-eared owl the evidence is less clear and it may be due to a combination of factors including deliberate persecution, food availability and climate change. Theft of eggs or young for falconry appears to be a problem in the White Peak, but far less so in the Dark Peak.
Predator control on land owned by the National Park Authority
We manage land under the ownership of the National Park Authority for a wide variety of benefits, including wildlife conservation.
In the Peak District National Park, this often includes wading birds such as snipe, curlew and lapwing. These (and many other wading birds) have witnessed significant population decline in recent decades, and many are now highlighted as ‘Red Listed’ for conservation concern.
On our Staffordshire estate at Warslow, we have worked closely with Natural England to develop habitats favoured by these species, aiming to maintain and increase local breeding populations. This work has been undertaken alongside extensive monitoring, including routine surveys and the use of infra-red motion detector cameras.
This research has demonstrated that whilst the habitats and conditions offer suitable breeding opportunities, breeding success is negatively affected by a range of mammalian and avian predators. Whilst always used as a last resort - and when monitoring has highlighted the impact of predators - we may use direct predator control alongside habitat improvements to support the potential breeding success of species of major conservation concern.
The Authority carries out legal predator/pest control on its land only where it is considered essential to protect important and threatened species or features of historical importance, and is carried out in accordance with guidelines and codes of best practice.. The need for such control is periodically reviewed. The Authority does not authorise the use of snares on its land.
Wading birds nest across widely dispersed areas, and therefore alternatives to predator control such as fencing are not practical; nor do they provide protection from other birds.