THE LAUGHING BAD­GER Hares on run from de­clin­ing na­tive habi­tat

Glossop Advertiser - - News - SEAN WOOD

IF I had the in­cli­na­tion, I could leave the gallery ev­ery morn­ing and within ten min­utes walk shout hello to a num­ber of brown hares, but just know­ing that they are around is good enough for me.

I also count my­self as very lucky, ac­tu­ally uber-lucky, be­cause within half an hour’s walk I can doff my cap to moun­tain hares as well.

Dur­ing the late 1800s there were about four mil­lion brown hares in Bri­tain. But re­cent sur­veys show the brown hare has de­clined by more than 80 per cent dur­ing the past 100 years and the de­cline is on­go­ing. In some parts of Bri­tain, such as the south west, the brown hare is al­most a rar­ity and may even be lo­cally ex­tinct.

The rea­sons for this de­cline are not en­tirely clear, but in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of agri­cul­ture has cer­tainly been a ma­jor fac­tor.

Hares do not hi­ber­nate or store ap­pre­cia­ble amounts of fat in their bod­ies and so need a con­stant food sup­ply through­out the year. This can only be pro­vided by land­scapes rich in bio­di­ver­sity.

Their an­ces­tral homes of past aeons pro­vided a di­ver­sity of grass and herb species ma­tur­ing in suc­ces­sion through­out the year.

Agri­cul­tural land­scapes, in­clud­ing tra­di­tional hay mead­ows and crops grown in ro­ta­tion, pro­vided sim­i­lar di­ver­sity in rel­a­tively re­cent times. But 95pc of hay mead­ows have been lost since the Sec­ond World War.

Hay mak­ing has largely been re­placed by silage pro­duc­tion which is more prof­itable and less de­pen­dent upon weather con­di­tions.

Grass­land for silage pro­duc­tion tends to be sown to a sin­gle species, re­sult­ing in land­scapes poor in bio­di­ver­sity.

This might ex­plain why hares are now par­tic­u­larly scarce in western ar­eas where dairy farm­ing pre­dom­i­nates. They now fare bet­ter in the arable ●● ar­eas of the east, giv­ing a marked east-west di­vide in their na­tional pop­u­la­tion. Other changes in the pat­tern of land use have not been help­ful to hares. Au­tumn sown ce­real crops show bet­ter yields than those sown in the spring ow­ing to the longer grow­ing sea­son avail­able be­fore har­vest. More win­ter ce­re­als are planted than ever be­fore, so while hares have an abun­dant food sup­ply be­tween Novem­ber and Fe­bru­ary, the plants then be­come un­palat­able.

In the ab­sence of spring sown crops, hares then suf­fer a food short­age at the very time when their en­ergy needs are great­est – at the height of their breed­ing sea­son. Hares ac­tu­ally pre­fer to eat wild grasses and herbs, with grasses pre­dom­i­nat­ing in the win­ter and herbs in the sum­mer, but 150,000 miles of hedgerow have been de­stroyed dur­ing the past 50 years – de­priv­ing hares of this source of food and shel­ter.

Larger fields con­tain­ing sin­gle crops also mean hares have to travel fur­ther in their ef­fort to main­tain con­tin­u­ous graz­ing.

So, with­out giv­ing you a sat-nav des­ti­na­tion for your own sight­ings of brown hares, do the maths, a bit of re­search, weigh up the ter­rain, and find your own lit­tle bit of furry joy.

Brown hares are be­com­ing a rar­ity in some ar­eas

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