NATURE IN CONTROL
Information about the Hare
Brown Hare – Lepus europaeus
Habitat: Grassland, arable land.
Description: The brown hare has very long black-tipped ears; large, long, powerful hind legs. They are much redder than the mountain hare, and with a black-topped tail. There is yellow flecking to the fur, more so than grey-brown rabbits. The brown hare is larger than rabbits.
Size: 52-59cm; tail: 8-12cm
Weight: Average 3-4kg
Lifespan: Adult hares normally live to 3 or 4 years but very rarely can live much longer.
Diet: Tender grass shoots, including cereal crops, are their main foods.
Origin & Distribution: Brown hares were introduced in Iron Age times from the other side of the North Sea. They are widespread on low ground throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Although they have been more recently introduced to Northern Ireland, they have not spread far. They have also been introduced to the Isle of Man and Mainland Orkney. In Scotland, brown hares are found on farmland and rough grazing to the far north of the mainland, but are absent from parts of the North West. Brown hares are replaced by mountain hares in upland areas of Scotland and central England.
Brown hares live in very exposed habitats, and they rely on acute senses and running at speeds of up to 70kph (45mph) to evade predators. Hares do not use burrows, but make a small depression in the ground among long grass – this is known as a form. They spend most of the day on or near the form, moving out to feed in the open at night. Though generally solitary, hares sometimes band into loose groups when feeding.
takes place between February and September and a female can rear three or four litters a year, each of two to four young. The young, known as leverets, are born fully furred with their eyes open and are left by the female in forms a few metres from their birth place. Once a day for the first four weeks of their lives, the leverets gather at sunset to be fed by the female, but otherwise they receive no parental care. This avoids attracting predators to the young at a stage when they are most vulnerable. Foxes are important predators of young hares and where foxes are common there are likely to be few hares.
Brown hares have little legal protection as they are game animals managed by farmers and landowners. Numbers declined substantially since the beginning of this century, though they are still common animals in many parts of the country. Today’s modern farms are intensive and specialised, either growing crops like wheat and oilseed rape, or raising livestock for meat and dairy produce. A hundred years ago most farms were mixed enterprises, with a patchwork quilt of fields which provide year-round grazing for hares as well as long crops for them to hide in. Modern cereal farms provide little or no food for hares in late summer and autumn and livestock farms have few crops for them to hide in. Modern farm machinery and pesticides also kill many hares.
Another reason is that there now appears to be many more foxes in the countryside than there were a hundred years ago. Hare shooting still occurs in areas where hares are common and where farms want to reduce crop damage. Hare hunting with beagles and harriers used to occur throughout Britain, and hare coursing events were run by several coursing clubs, but these are now illegal (since Hunting Act 2002) in the UK; hare coursing, though controlled, is still legal in Ireland. Hares are very often poached, particularly with lurchers cross-bred from collies and greyhounds.
Very long black-tipped ears. Long limbs and powerful hind legs. Red-brown fur, with orange-brown flanks and a black-topped tail. Yellow flecking to the fur. Thick, downy undercoat and long, coarse hair on top. Eyes are a dark, rich amber colour in young, which lightens with age. Head and body length 55cm. Adult weight 3.7kg (females) and 3.3kg (males).
Footprints: Their footprints are distinctive by the position of their feet. Their long hind feet are parallel and the fore feet are often between them, depending on speed of travel. Width 2.5cm, length 3.5cm.
Droppings: Brown hare often leave droppings on bare ground, farmland and edges of grassland. They are larger and more flattened than the rabbit (1.5cm-2cm in diameter). They can vary, depending on the diet. Colour: greenish brown. Smell: sweet, like a damp digestive biscuit with a hint of mown hay.
Mountain hare (Lepus timidus)
Shorter ears than brown hare. Eyes brown whilst brown hare has amber eyes. Mountain hare has pale grey body colour in summer, or white in winter, with tail all white, whilst brown hare is brown with orange/brown sides all year round and a black top to the tail.
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Rabbit is smaller than the brown hare, with shorter limbs. Ears are shorter and lack the black tips that the brown hare has. Rabbits have brown eyes, whilst the hare has distinctive amber eyes.