Some of the Windsors hare off into the world with the noble message of support for endagered species, but the story changes considerably when it comes to royal estates.
Prince Harry along with his brother William and their father and heir to the throne Charlie are often seen and heard advising people around the world how to look after their native wildlife. Harry is soon off to Africa to give his advice on the subject.
I’d be the last person to criticise them for that but perhaps they should start by having a word with their mother and grandmother who, it seems, is organising bloody slaughter herself on her royal estates.
It seems that the Queen has been sanctioning massive culls of mountain hares on her royal estates. Towards the end of February one cull on the Queen’s Delnadamph estate which is part of the royal Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire is said to have killed more than 500 hares.
The owners of grouse-shoots and their gamekeepers have a bad reputation for illegally slaughtering birds of prey and other wildlife. Some keepers have been brought to justice as we have reported in these pages but sadly far too many get away with it.
Not content with killing rare and threatened raptors the same estates have been slaughtering huge numbers of said mountain hares (Lepus timidus). They claim they do it to protect their precious red grouse stocks from a virus carried by the hares.
Last year, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) called on these landowners to practice voluntary restraint and try to rein in their lust for slaughtering these mountain hares.
This rather watered-down response was after 10 conservation organisations asked SNH to impose an immediate three-year ban on hare culling to allow an assessment of how this large-scale and indiscriminate slaughter was affecting the conservation status of the mountain hare.
The grouse-shooting industry reacted strongly against this proposal and SNH caved in to the high-powered lobbying and refused to impose the temporary ban.
Allegations about the culls come from veteran scientist and pre-eminent authority on Scotland’s mountains Dr Adam Watson, who says he has reliable accounts from eyewitnesses and other informed sources.
Watson (above) is a Scottish biologist, ecologist, mountaineer and a popular and respected naturalist on TV and radio. His vast academic output and contributions to the understanding of the flora and fauna in Scotland and elsewhere has been internationally recognised.
As well as the evidence from Watson a photograph of a pickup truck full of dead hares was published by the Scottish paper the Sunday Herald earlier this year.
“In each case, a brutal military-type operation occurred with scores of quad bikes and snow scooters driving the hares up to armed staff hidden higher up and frequent bangs from guns,” Watson said. “These severe killings show no respect for the public or for wildlife under stress during snowy weather.”
Meanwhile grouse shooters and landowners insist that shooting hares is perfectly legal and doesn’t jeopardise their populations. But Watson argues that mass killings are in breach of European law because they are indiscriminate and damage the animals’ conservation status.
Unlike rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and the more common brown hare (Lepus europaeus), which were both introduced to Britain albeit many centuries ago, the mountain hare is a truly indigenous species.
It’s coat is brown in summer, with a white tail and turns white in winter, dependent upon temperature. Not all individuals necessarily turn completely white. It has long black tipped ears but shorter than those of the brown hare.
Mountain hares graze on heather grasses, rush and sedge and live for between three and four years unless killed.
In Britain they are generally found on heather moorlands, particularly those which are managed by burning for red grouse shoots.
Although native to the Highlands of Scotland it has been introduced to the Southern Uplands, the Peak District and on some Scottish Islands including Hoy (Orkney), Mainland (Shetland), Mull and Skye. In Ireland, there is a genetically very distinct form, the Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus).
The royals have a bit of a history when it comes to wildlife hypocrisy. Back in 2007 Harry was questioned by Norfolk police about the illegal shooting of two protected hen harriers.
The shots came from the Royal Sandringham estate where the only guns pointing skyward were in the hands of Harry and two friends.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that he had been interviewed as an official suspect by police, along with William van Cutsem, 28, a family friend, and David Clarke, 58, one of the Queen’s gamekeepers.
Despite an intensive police inquiry, no charges could be brought because the bodies of the hen harriers could not be found.
The implication in the CPS statement is that the dead birds’ bodies were removed — an act routinely encountered during investigations into wildlife crime.
The CPS said it had no doubt the birds had been shot and, it revealed, the prince and his companions were also questioned over the illegal use of lead shot over the nature reserve.
Every year hen harriers are killed illegally by gamekeepers and others involved in the grouse shooting industry but successful prosecutions are incredibly rare.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 8 April 2016.