Brown Hare

Identification - the brown hare is one of two species in the British Isles, the other being the native mountain hare. It was probably introduced by the Romans. It is much larger than the rabbit but be aware of mistaking large rabbits for hares. The main distinguishing feature of the brown hare is the very long ears with prominent black tops, orange eyes and very long legs.

General ecology - the brown hare is abundant on arable land, especially cereal farming areas, or land with minimal livestock and they can be found resting up in woodland and hedgerows. They prefer large flat fields to help with detection of predators. It is widespread in the British Isles. They lie up in forms (usually a scrape or hollow in a field) during the day and are mainly solitary, that is, they live on their own. They breed from mid-February to mid-September and courtship consists of boxing matches between the doe (female) and the buck (male). The buck is polygamous, meaning it mates with as many does as it can. The doe can give birth up to four litters per season of around four leverets (young hares) that are fully furred, sighted and mobile. They are born in the open countryside and left most of the day, the mother visiting after sunset to suckle the young. The leverets are independent at a month old.They rely on speeds of up to 45mph, camouflage and acute senses such as hearing to avoid predators. Their average home range is 37 hectares. (Clark SAJ 1998)
Their main threats are to their habitat (the place where they live) and illegal hare coursing (chasing hares with dogs for sport).

Surveying tips - the best times to survey for brown hare are from October to mid January in daylight where they can be easily spotted in their forms, a scrape in a field where they lie hidden during the day - annual count. They can also be counted in spring and summer at dawn and dusk in good weather.

Hare today, gone tomorrow? – findings from the 2004 survey

In recent decades, the Brown Hare has suffered significant decline in Europe. To find out more about the current status and distribution of Brown Hares in Essex, in 2004, the Essex Biodiversity Project sent out a questionnaire and survey to local farm owners. Forty-nine farms responded, with the following results:

Of the 49 farms:

    47 farmers reported the presence of hares on their land in 2004, compared to all 49 farms having hares present previously.
    33 farmers reported having illegal hare coursers on their land, with the majority of these occurring at regular intervals throughout the year. Twenty of these farms contacted the police.
    Seven farms controlled hare numbers for reasons including crop damage and/or to deter coursers.
    Seven farms had organised shoots.
    39 farms were prepared to count the hares as part of an organised survey.

Numbers of hares were found to be increasing on 25 farms. The reasons given by farmers for these increases included: provision of suitable habitat, the use of environmental farming policy such as planting woodlands and CSS boundary strips, ceasing of shooting the hares, increased control of foxes and less use of OP-type pesticides.

The numbers of hares were found to be decreasing on nine farms. The reasons given for these declines were given as predation of leverets by foxes, disease, road kill, illegal coursing and loss of habitat. Hare numbers were found to be stable on 12 farms, with the population dynamics being unknown on three farms.

Information from 49 farms
Mixed arable = 24
Cereal = 13
Livestock/cereal = 9
Grass = 3
Grazing + Haylage = 1
Dairy/arable = 1
Other = 2
Total = 53 (as some farms counted as more than one type).

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