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A spatially explicit evaluation of mountain hare-related conservation conflicts in the Cairngorms

School of Life Sciences

About the Project

Research Group: Applied Ecology Research Group (AERG) -

Proposed supervisory team: Dr Helen Wheeler () (AERG, Anglia Ruskin University)
Dr Rosalind Bryce (Centre for Mountain Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands)

Several other members of staff with interest in this subject area could be part of the team e.g. Dr Nikoleta Jones (Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University), Dr Dannielle Green (AERG, Anglia Ruskin University).

Theme: Conservation conflict, ecosystems, population ecology, social-ecological

Summary of the research project

Conservation conflicts are embedded within management and conservation of mountain hare populations in Scotland, as demonstrated by the amount of disagreement over mountain hare densities between stakeholders. This partially reflects the challenges of quantification of distribution and density, but also differing views concerning the role and acceptability of mountain hare for different stakeholders. To build trust in models of hare distribution and density across stakeholders it is important that data is considered salient, credible and legitimate and stakeholder conceptions of systems guide data collection.

In the Cairngorms, mountain hare populations occur in upland moorland and grasslands and are subject to hunting and culling. Land management has strong impacts on hare population densities; in proximity to grouse moorlands, densities have historically been high, associated with predator control and habitat management for grouse. However, recent severe declines in hare densities in proximity to grouse moors have been reported, and are thought to be linked to broad-scale culling of hares to prevent louping ill virus.

Stakeholder perceptions of mountain hare populations are dependent on the social and ecological context in which they are found. While high density mountain hare populations in proximity to grouse moors have been a particular concern for some stakeholders, lower density populations in less managed upland environments may cause less concern. Managing the complex nature of the conflict between stakeholders regarding this species requires that ecological understanding of hare ecological distribution and dynamics are embedded within a wider view of the social-ecological contexts in which the species occurs.

This project will take a spatially explicit approach to understand a) the drivers of mountain hare distribution and density, b) interactions of hare with other social and ecosystem components and c) the acceptability of different management and conservation actions to stakeholder groups. By combining rigorous ecological methodology with analysis of stakeholder attitudes and conceptions of systems, we will inform future management and conservation by mapping potential solutions for hare conservation and management based on population ecology and interactions with human interests. The project will:

• Develop models of stakeholder conceptions of mountain hare-related systems, including drivers of abundance and distribution and mountain hare effects on socio-ecological systems using fuzzy cognitive mapping.

• Use stakeholder-derived variables to assess key drivers of density and distribution for mountain hare and key interactions of mountain hare with other key socio-ecological system components in the Cairngorms using field surveys and existing spatial data.

• Evaluate how the spatial contexts in which mountain hare populations occur affect stakeholder attitudes and preferred management actions using public participatory GIS methods.

• Combine social and ecological data to map areas of high and low conflict with stakeholder groups and viability of areas for mountain hare conservation based on ecological and social factors.

Where you’ll study:

Cambridge _

Next steps:

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Biology PhD ( In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Funding Notes

This project is self-funded.
Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website (View Website) as they become available.

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