They were once a common sight on the west Highland estate of Beinn an Tuirc, but as the landscape has changed over the past 40 years, there is now a greater chance of spotting a mountain hare at a tea party than on the moorland.

Now, a project by an energy company aims to establish a thriving community of the creatures by next Easter.

ScottishPower Renewables is offering £30 to rangers for every hare they hand over. The animals will be reintroduced to draw a pair of golden eagles, which feed on the hares, away from the wind turbines. The company is offering cash after a call to estates for help failed to elicit a strong response. A colony of hares will be established near the Beinn an Tuirc wind farm in Argyll and Bute.

David Macarthur, an ecologist at ScottishPower Renewables, said that the decline of the hares had come as open moorland – the animals' natural habitat – was replaced by forests. When the wind farm was proposed, conservation groups and local planners insisted on a habitat mitigation plan to keep the eagles away from the turbines. "The idea was to reinstate the heather moorland to act as a foraging habitat for the eagles," Mr Macarthur said.

"The opportunity offered itself to improve the local ecosystem by introducing a species that had become extinct. But the other plus is that by doing this, we're also introducing another prey-item for the eagle." Other prey of the bird, red and black grouse, have been reintroduced to the area successfully. But Mr Macarthur said it was not about simply setting up a ready source of food for the eagles.

"What the conservation groups are keen on is having management in place that is sustainable in its own right," he explained. So if we can do that by having the mountain hares sustaining themselves as a natural component of that ecosystem, then that's an ideal outcome."

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: "ScottishPower's approach in creating this habitat that takes into account local biodiversity is to be welcomed."


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