Project partners

British Trust for Ornithology logo
NatureScot logo
Mammal Society logo
James Hutton Institute logo
GWCT logo

Project partners

British Trust for Ornithology logo
NatureScot logo
Mammal Society logo
James Hutton Institute logo
GWCT logo

Volunteer Mountain Hare Survey - frequently asked questions

Have any questions or uncertainties relating the the Mountain Hare Survey?

How do Mountain Hare Square Surveys differ from BBS?

The first thing to emphasise is that, although the Mountain Hare Survey (particularly the 'Square Survey' aspect) has similar methods to the BBS, it is a completely separate survey, with separate data storage systems as well as other important differences (see below). You cannot use the Mammal Mapper app to submit BBS data, and the square registration system is a completely separate system from the one by which BBS squares are allocated.

Because BBS data are incredibly valuable to us, during the BBS season we ask that existing BBS volunteers continue to prioritise BBS (including Upland Rovers) surveys. However, the fact that you can do Mountain Hare Surveys all year-round (as well as at any time of day, and in any 1 km square within the survey area) hopefully means that many BBS surveyors will be able to contribute to the Mountain Hare Survey in addition to their valued participation in BBS.

If you are already familiar with the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey methods then you will hopefully feel at home with several aspects of Mountain Hare Square Surveys.  However, there are some important differences to bear in mind when you are carrying out Mountain Hare Square Surveys:

  • You don’t need to worry about recording within separate 200 m transect sections. You will be using the app to record the approximate position of the birds and mammals that you observe, and we can work out what section they were in afterwards.
  • Likewise, there’s no need to worry about distance bands. The position of birds and mammals recorded in Mammal Mapper is worked out from its distance and angle relative to your position and direction of travel.
  • You only need to carry out one visit. That said, if you want to do a second visit to the same square, you can sign up via the interactive square square selection map in the same way that you did for the first visit – there is no limit to how many times you can do this! However, please bear in mind that, from our point of view, visits to different 1 km squares are preferable to repeat visits, particularly if there are priority (red-bordered) squares which you could visit for us.
  • You can only record 23 species of birds using the Mammal Mapper app. However, these are likely to cover many of the birds that you will encounter in upland habitats. The similarities in method to BBS will make it easier to compare and combine data from these two surveys. This will make the data from Mountain Hare Square Surveys more useful, by enabling BTO to draw on more information to understand the factors affecting upland birds.

Recording on your smartphone

GPS (‘Location’) is enabled on my phone, but keeps turning off during surveys. What can I do?

On some smart phones, default battery settings can cause GPS to turn off when the phone’s screen is off. This can result in the app failing to correctly draw your route during a survey. You should be able to fix this in the Maintenance/Battery section of your phone’s Settings. Possible fixes include disabling battery-saving mode, or removing Mammal Mapper from the list apps are prevented from using your battery while you are “not using them”. With any of these measures, you may choose to leave these settings on your phone between surveys, or to employ them just for the duration of the survey (in which case remember to do them again when you carry out your next survey).

I want to save my phone battery for emergencies. Will having the GPS on and the App running make my battery go flat?

The App uses the phone’s inbuilt GPS system and this can cause the battery to drain more quickly. For the relatively short duration of a Square Survey this is unlikely to be a big issue if your phone was fully charged when you started. However, every phone is different. You may find that changing the “Locating Method” in your phone’s GPS or Location settings could help. Some phones default to using a combination of GPS, WiFi and mobile networks to estimate your location, but you can change this to “Device only” or “GPS only” mode, which is less battery hungry, and should not impact much on your phone’s location performance while you are in the countryside. If you are worried about battery life (particularly for longer Rambling Surveys, or especially remote Square Surveys) we advise you to take a power bank (a portable battery pack) that you can use to recharge your phone while out in the field.

Must I have the app running all the time on my walk?

Please keep the app on while you are carrying out a survey (i.e. actively looking out for and recording wildlife). However, just as importantly, please turn the app off (or at least Finish the survey) when you have finished surveying. This could be at the end of your walk, or, if you decide not to survey for the whole walk, whenever you make the decision to stop.

What should I do if I forget to put the app in the right survey mode, or don’t remember to pause it between the two transect lines?

Don’t panic – so long as your app was on and recording for the two transects, we should be able to retrieve your data. Please complete your survey and then email science [at] to explain what has happened.

How do I place records correctly on the App’s map?

When you enter a record, after entering the distance and orientation of an observation, and pressing 'Add to survey', you can view your observation in List View or Map View. In the latter, observations will usually be shown roughly where you have judged them to be, relative to your path and current position and (if you have internet signal) the background map. However, the App may sometimes place observations in relation to you in a way that looks wrong. If this happens, don’t worry! We should be able to work out where the record should be from the bearing and direction information you entered.

Is this survey for me?

What if I don’t think my identification skills are up to taking part?

The main focus of this survey is on Mountain Hares, which you may be worried about confusing with Brown Hares or Rabbits. However, Mountain Hares are the species most likely to be seen at high elevations and the Mammal Mapper app and training video provide help on how to separate the animals where they occur together.

I’m pretty sure there are no Mountain Hares in the area that I plan to walk - should I still take part?

Yes please! We have very little information on where Mountain Hares are found across much of Scotland. This means that taking part in an area with no hares and recording ‘zero data’ is a really valuable thing to do. In this survey, all that requires is to switch on the app, walk while keeping your eyes and ears peeled for the target species, and then (if you don’t observe any) just finishing the survey without entering any records. Because the app records your route, this will contribute evidence that these species are absent from the area you surveyed. Plus of course while you are participating you can still record and submit sightings of other mammals and upland birds, many of which are very under-recorded.

How do I take part if I don’t have, or don’t want to use, a smartphone?

At present, we are trialling this approach for smartphones only, because they are now so widely used and can make biological recording much more efficient and accurate. However, if this pilot scheme is successful and continues in the future then we may consider adapting it to include other methods of data capture, including paper forms.

What should I record?

Should I record animals which are outside the 1 km square which I’m covering?

For consistency with the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey methods, please do not record animals which are before the start or beyond the end of your transect lines. This will require particular care as you approach the end of each transect. However, animals a long distance away perpendicular to the transect line should be recorded, even if you suspect that they are outside your square. Just note down their angle and approximate distance from you, as with other records.

Should I record birds which just fly overhead?

Please make a judgement about whether the bird is using the square. In most cases the bird will have just taken off or is about to land, will be displaying over its territory (e.g. Skylarks), or will be searching for food (e.g. Raven). If you are certain that the bird is just flying over the square in transit to somewhere else then please don’t record it.

Should I record every single individual of each species?

If you are carrying out a Square Survey then yes, please do record all of the individual birds and mammals that you see (or groups of these where applicable). By recording in this way you will collect data that are as similar as possible to those that we get from the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey. In some squares we know that there will be a lot and this could be quite time consuming. Thank you for your dedication and patience - by submitting your data in this way you are making a valued contribution to our understanding of change in upland birds.

If you are carrying out a Rambling Survey, it is less important that you record every single individual of any very common bird species. Please do record each individual of all of the mammals, and of the 23 bird project species whenever possible. However, if you are encountering a species too frequently to record it while continuing your walk, it’s fine to record an individual every 500m or so, as an indication that the species is present and widespread. If you do this, please add a ‘Comment’ to the records of these abundant species to say that you aren’t recording all individuals and, if possible, give an estimate of the total number of the species you have seen since you last recorded it.

Can I record hare tracks and droppings, which I often find in the snow on hills where I’ve never seen an actual hare?

Yes, field signs of Mountain Hares (as well as other mammals) can be recorded using the app, providing useful additional information on distribution of hares and other mammals. Photos of these signs can also be taken in the app and will be submitted along with your record. This information can be used to help with verification, even if you are not sure what the field sign is yourself. We would be grateful if you record field signs of mammals, particularly in areas where you do not see live individuals of these species. However, mammal field signs can be numerous, and if you are unable or do not want to record every field sign you come across that’s OK. In areas of continuous and numerous signs please try and record on the app at least every 500 m, ideally adding in a comment with an estimate of the number in the vicinity.

How can I avoid double-counting Mountain Hares, other mammals and birds?

Sometimes an animal you have observed and recorded at one position may move to a different location, and be seen by you again. If you record it a second time, as if it were a new individual, this is called double-counting. Please try to avoid this, as when it happens it will tend to lead to the abundance of that animal being over-estimated.

It isn’t always easy to avoid double-counting – for example, if you spot a Mountain Hare running away from you, and it runs out of sight, then shortly afterwards you encounter another hare near the spot where you last saw the first one, how do you know whether the two are the same individual or not? The answer is: you don’t – but if you think that there is a reasonable chance that it is the same individual, please don’t count it again. In this way, counts of animals on your surveys should be conservative. This means we will be able to rely on them telling us the minimum number of animals present in the area you surveyed.

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