An animal charity is calling for greater protection of the mountain hare as the 2016/17 open season begins.
OneKind said the creature is “routinely” targeted by shooting parties and gamekeepers, with tens of thousands being killed every year.
Scottish wildlife charities, including the RSPB and Scottish Wildlife Trust, have called on the Scottish Government to impose a three-year ban on all mountain hare culling on grouse moors until safeguards are in place to that ensure killing is sustainable.
The Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Land and Estates and the Wildlife Conservation Trust have also called for “voluntary restraint” on large-scale culls, after one survey found 24,529 mountain hares were killed in Scotland between March 2006 and February 2007.
The risk of injury rather than a clean kill is heightened, meaning many shot hares will inevitably suffer
However, OneKind said this does not go far enough and is calling for the mountain hare to be completely protected from all forms of commercial hunting and culling.
Harry Huyton, the charity’s director, said: “OneKind wants to see complete protection of the mountain hare which would mean an end to culls and commercial hunting. The indiscriminate and ruthless killing of such an iconic species is wholly unacceptable.
“Shooting hare is notoriously challenging as they are small, fast moving animals and because the shooting takes place in an environment where plenty of cover is available the risk of injury rather than a clean kill is heightened, meaning many shot hares will inevitably suffer.”
The campaign has the backing of Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart.
He said: “Mountain hares are wonderful animals and they need our protection from being shot. As a vital part of the ecosystem and heritage of the Highlands, it is a tragedy that so many are needlessly killed each year.
“Hopefully OneKind’s campaign, which I fully support, will be able to raise awareness and win them the greater protection they need.”
Open season on the mountain hare – which is native to Scotland – runs from the first day of August until the last day of February.