MOOR­LAND

How to see moun­tain hare, golden plover, adder and cot­ton-grass

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild Britain -

When you en­counter a moun­tain hare, you are look­ing at a true na­tive to the UK, un­like brown hares, which were in­tro­duced from Europe by the Celts dur­ing the Iron Age. Smaller than the lat­ter but big­ger than a rab­bit (which were also in­tro­duced here), these fas­ci­nat­ing an­i­mals are grey-brown in the sum­mer but turn white in the win­ter (though this change can be tem­per­a­ture de­pen­dent), with only the tips of their ears stay­ing dark. This is na­ture’s de­sign to keep them per­fectly cam­ou­flaged against a back­drop of snowy moun­tain­sides.

Moun­tain hares were orig­i­nally only found in the higher re­gions of Scot­land but they were translo­cated to cer­tain el­e­vated moor­land ar­eas of Eng­land, such as the Peak District, for sport shoot­ing in the 1800s. Iron­i­cally, they have been culled on some game shoot­ing es­tates in more re­cent times, be­cause they re­put­edly carry dis­eases that could in­fect the young red grouse.

Un­like rab­bits, moun­tain hares do not dig bur­rows; they scrape out a shal­low de­pres­sion in the soil in grassy ar­eas and among the heather then hun­ker down, mak­ing them­selves al­most in­vis­i­ble in the land­scape. If they are dis­turbed, they will bound away at speed from this ‘form’, us­ing their strong back legs, of­ten ex­pertly zigzag­ging in or­der to con­fuse and slow down any pur­suers. Be­cause they make it their busi­ness to be so dif­fi­cult to see, you’ll need luck, pa­tience and a good pair of binoc­u­lars to catch sight of one. In win­ter, your best chance is where they gather to­gether on the lee­ward sides of hills, shel­ter­ing from the wind and scratch­ing in the slightly shal­lower snow to find food. You can in­crease your chances, though, if you look for them in spring­time. The hares’ white coats are of­ten slow to trans­form back to their sum­mer col­oration and so you can find them stick­ing out like a prover­bial sore thumb, if the snow melts early.

It’s eas­ier to spot a moun­tain hare in spring, be­fore it loses its win­ter coat.

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