MSP condemns 'routine killings' of breeding hares
Figures show more than 1300 licences to hunt the animals were granted last year.
More licences are being granted to kill wild hares than ever before, according to new figures.
The statistics, first published in The Ferret, were obtained through a Freedom of Information request made by the Scottish Greens to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) - the body responsible for granting licences.
They show that 235 licences were granted in 2012, the first year that statistics were provided.
Last year, 1308 licences were awarded - a rise of more than 1000 in just seven years.
In total, almost 7000 licences for killing brown hares have been granted since 2012.
Alison Johnstone, the Greens' parliamentary co-leader, said the current legal framework allowed a "culture of persecution to thrive" around the killing of wild animals - many of whom are shot during breeding season.
"This is yet another example of how large-scale killing of wildlife has become routine, with little more than a timid nod from Scottish Natural Heritage, the regulator who's meant to protect our environment," said Ms Johnstone.
"It's disappointing to see this significant increase in the number of hares killed during the breeding season.
"There are serious welfare concerns here, and Scottish Natural Heritage should investigate this increase immediately, whilst developing and promoting non-lethal methods of minimising any damage that hares might do to new woodlands."
The closed season for brown hares runs between February 1 to September 30, while the period is between March 1 and July 31 for mountain hares.
Licences can be granted for specific purposes such as preventing the spread of disease, preventing the serious damage of forestry, or for social, economic or environmental purposes.
Applicants must be able to provide clear reasons as to why alternatives such as taking action in the open season would not resolve the problem.
Ms Johnstone added: "Hare killing is part of a bigger, systematic problem with wildlife protection in Scotland.
"Our laws and enforcement are weak, and widespread killing is permitted in secret.
"Whether it's brown hares, mountain hares or foxes, the Government has allowed a culture of persecution to thrive when it should be protecting our natural heritage and working with others to develop alternatives to killing.
"The Greens are determined to challenge this and I will bring forward a proposal to introduce proper protections for wild mammals imminently."
A spokeswoman for SNH said: "Brown hares are a traditional quarry species and in Scotland they can be legally shot between October 1 and January 31.
"In the close season, licences to control hares can only be granted for specific purposes, such as preventing spread of disease; and serious damage to forestry.
"The most likely cause of a steady increase in the numbers of brown hares controlled under license are changes in land use, particularly expansion of woodlands. The establishment of new woodlands brings a range of benefits, including mitigating climate change, restoration of 'lost' habitats, enhancing urban areas, and improving public access to nature.
"However, before a licence is given we must be satisfied there will be no overall conservation impact on the species; and applicants must be able to provide clear reasons why alternatives such as fencing, or taking targeted action in the open season would not resolve the problem."