MORE than 10,000 people have signed a Scottish Greens petition to increase legal protection for mountain hares.

The party's co-leader Alison Johnstone has lodged an amendment to upcoming wildlife legislation that aims to prevent hare culling.

Animal welfare charities say thousands of mountain hares are killed each year by gamekeepers managing land for grouse shooting.

Last year, a "major decline" in mountain hare numbers was reported, prompting calls for urgent action.

The Scottish Greens said its online petition to make mountain hares a protected species gathered 10,498 names in just three days.

MSPs are due to vote on Stage Three of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill on Wednesday.

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Johnstone said: "The level of public support for my amendment is hugely encouraging. Mountain hares are iconic animals, native to the Highlands.

"They deserve the highest level of protection we can offer but current laws mean that persecution and mass killings are rife.

"Populations have crashed and their conservation status was downgraded last year.

"This is our chance to protect this species for future generations.

"The Parliament must listen and vote to end the killing on Wednesday."

She added: "The Scottish Greens have significantly raised the ambition of this Bill, with amendments to give greater protection for seals, whales, dolphins, mountain hares, beavers and badgers, as well as reverse the damaging decision to relax laws on severing puppy's tails.

"I hope MSPs can meet that ambition on Wednesday to protect Scotland's iconic animals."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We are giving all amendments lodged under the Animal and Wildlife Penalties, Protections and Powers Bill careful consideration, and we will outline our position at the Stage 3 debate on June 17."