Ruth Maguire MSP has welcomed the decision by the Scottish Parliament to give protected status to mountain hares.

The change in legislation was confirmed as The Scottish Parliament passed the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

The new Bill will now require control of mountain hare numbers to be done under license all year round and only for permitted reasons, such as preventing serious damage to trees and crops.

The most serious animal cruelty offences committed under the new law will now carry up to five years imprisonment or an unlimited fine or both.

The SNP MSP said: “I’m throughly pleased that mountain hares have been granted protected status as part of the new legislation. The mass culling of this iconic animal on Scotland’s grouse moors as part of gamekeeping to allow other animals to be shot at is a barbaric practise.

“I’d like to give acknowledgement to Revive for the work they have done in promoting reform of Scotland’s grouse moors, which includes protection for the animals who inhabit them.”

“With the introduction of this Bill, Scotland is sending a message that animal cruelty and wildlife crime will not be tolerated.”

In addition to the passing of the Animals and Wildlife Bill, an independently chaired task force is to be established this summer to consider whether the Scottish SPCA should be given extra powers to investigate wildlife crime. The membership and remit of this task force is yet to be confirmed.