When the snows dust the Scottish hills, the enigmatic mountain hare appears doubly appealing as it dons its white winter coat. The mountain hare and the stoat are the only British mammals to do so. It’s all in the name of camouflage of course – these hares have many predators, such as foxes and golden eagles – and yet they can be surprisingly easy to spot if you are in the right place.
The moorlands by Perthshire’s Glen Turret are something of a hotspot. There’s easy walking there, too, as the area is traversed by good estate tracks beneath the munro Ben Chonzie. On a good day, you will be rewarded by seeing perhaps half a dozen or more of these hardy creatures. As with any wildlife spotting adventure, a little patience and perseverance will help. Though luck can play a big part, it’s thrilling to come across a white hare unexpectedly and watch as it expertly carves its way out of sight across the hills.
The Scottish mountain hare (Lepus timidus scoticus) is a subspecies of the mountain hare (Lepus timidus) and is native
to the Highlands of Scotland. These charming animals are also known as blue hares due to the bluish tinge their coat takes on during the transition to winter conditions. They are smaller
and more compact than the brown hare of the lowlands.
The Glen Turret area is favoured by the mountain hare, in common with other parts of central and eastern Scotland, where the heather moorland is managed for grouse shooting. The canny hare benefits from the controlled heather and predator culling that takes
place there. In winter, the
hares survive on heather;
in summer they eat grass.
To get here, you pass through the attractive tourist hub of Crieff before venturing north and up a single-track road to Loch Turret Reservoir. It’s well worth choosing a fine day, if you can, for your hare-spotting trip; in poor weather the glen can seem particularly uninviting, though it is sheltered from most winds by the bulk of Ben Chonzie to the west and Choineachain Hill to the east.
From Loch Turret you have a number of choices. Experienced and appropriately equipped winter hill walkers could make for Ben Chonzie. The mountain is home to a sizeable white hare population, but you also stand a very good chance of seeing hares at various points on the lower track that runs east between Cnoc Beithe and Craig Kipmaclyne. Take a flask and plenty of provisions so you can stop to enjoy the excellent open views down
to Strathearn along the way.
If snow is lying, look out for
the hares’ tracks.
Conservationists are increasingly concerned about the species, due to reports of it being almost extinct in some parts of Scotland where it was previously abundant. Heather depletion caused by the overgrazing of livestock means there is less food and cover available for the hares. But numbers have also declined in some moorland areas managed for grouse shooting, leading to claims that the population is not being allowed to sustain itself.
Irish poet WB Yeats penned the evocative poem Memory – an ode to a lost love – in which he wrote “…the mountain grass cannot but keep the form, where the mountain hare has lain”. Hopefully you’ll see what he meant about the depression left behind the hare. They tend to hide until you are almost upon them. Then, in a flash, they’ll jump out, perhaps look
at you quizzically, and race
away to a safe distance.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Edinburgh, take the
M90 to Perth then the A85
to Crieff. Follow the signs for
Glen Turret distillery, passing
this, to reach a fork. Follow
the sign for Loch Turret
to the road end car park.
Find Out More
at the Crieff Hydro
Crieff PH7 3LQ
Crieff PH7 3LQ
01764 651 670
Glen Turret Distillery
The Hosh, Crieff PH7 4HA
This distillery runs tours to showcase its Famous Grouse.