Hunting mountain hares will soon require a licence all year round after new aminal protections were introduced at Holyrood.
The open season for hunting Scotland’s native mountain hare population is currently from the start of August until the end of February.
But from March, it will be made illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares without a licence at any time of the year.
Licences will be issued by NatureScot where there are concerns for public health or protection of crops and timber, according to the Scottish Government.
Maximum penalties for hunting or harming mountain hares without a licence include five years imprisonment and unlimited fines.
The changes are part of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 which will also see new licensing requirements for those breeding puppies, kittens or infant rabbits, as well as introducing “Lucy’s Law” to end third-party selling of dogs and cats in Scotland under the age of six months.
Natural Environment Minister Ben Macpherson said: “Protecting Scotland’s wild animals in their natural environment is a key priority for this Scottish Government.
“Mountain hares are an iconic Scottish species and it is right that we protect them.
“Through the Animals and Wildlife Act 2020, we are taking action to safeguard the welfare of animals in Scotland and preserve our precious natural heritage for future generations to come.”
Mark Ruskell, the environment spokesman for the Scottish Greens – who have been calling for protections for mountain hares – said: “This iconic native species has been indiscriminately killed on Scotland’s grouse moors, even though it is at risk.
“These protections come as a direct result of the tireless work of my colleague and species champion Alison Johnstone, who forced the Government to act.
“Scotland is in a nature emergency, with one in nine species at threat. That’s why we will need to continue to hold the Scottish Government’s feet to the fire on this.
“NatureScot cannot hand out licences willy-nilly to kill mountain hares, like they have done with the supposedly protected beaver and other species.
“It’s long past time we brought an end to the destructive practice of grouse shooting and restored Scotland’s nature for future generations.”
Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s head of wildlife management said: “Mountain hares – our only native hare – are an important and valued species in the Scottish hills.
“This increased protection will help ensure healthy populations of mountain hares can be found and enjoyed in the mountains, while giving some recourse when there is a need to prevent damage being caused to saplings or sensitive habitats.
“We are also working with several partner organisations to continue to improve our understanding of mountain hare populations across Scotland, along with other work to support their conservation status.”