MEET THE AU­THOR John Lewis-Stem­pel

The farmer and writer tells us why he couldn’t re­sist fo­cussing on hares.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - OUR WILD WORLD -

What’s your most mem­o­rable en­counter with a hare?

I’ve seen hares ‘box’ in moon­light, I’ve held a hare in my arms, but my stand­out meet­ing with a hare hap­pened when I was seven, and lived in a house cut into the hill­side. One morn­ing, while wash­ing my face, I looked out of the bath­room win­dow – and there, di­rectly out­side, was a hare look­ing in, wash­ing its face.

Why did you choose the hare for your third species in this il­lus­trated se­ries?

The hare is one of the defin­ing, im­memo­rial Bri­tish an­i­mals. It evokes our coun­try­side as per­haps only the oak can. If we have hares, we still have our Bri­tish na­ture. So, the hare is an en­vi­ron­men­tally and cul­tur­ally im­por­tant species. Also, isn’t the hare just plain won­der­ful? It fas­ci­nates us be­cause it is our fastest land an­i­mal, it in­trigues us with its mad March courtship, it be­guiles us be­cause its off­spring are poster cute… what is not to love?

What makes hares so mys­te­ri­ous and fig­ures of myths and leg­ends?

Hares are noc­tur­nal (pri­mar­ily), and they are se­cre­tive, and they are sor­row­fully soli­tary. In the ab­sence of knowl­edge, spec­u­la­tion about the hare abounded, helped by the fact that hares are, frankly, as bizarre as they are beau­ti­ful. They have the cu­ri­ous, al­most hu­man habit of ‘box­ing’ in early spring, while their body parts seem bor­rowed from other an­i­mals: don­key’s ears, lion’s eyes, lurcher’s legs. Over the mil­len­nia, the hare has been con­sid­ered shape-shifter, fab­ri­cated on the moon (ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese), a witch’s con­sort, and more. Even today, when for­mer coun­try­side an­i­mals, such as the fox, have taken up town-dwelling, the hare re­mains de­ter­minedly ru­ral and a rare sight for most peo­ple. It re­tains its magic.

What do you think should be done to help the de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tions of the three hare species in the Bri­tish Isles?

Well, the ma­jor cause for the de­cline of the brown hare, our com­mon­est hare, is change down on the farm – no­tably the switch to au­tumn ce­real plant­ing and to ‘silage’ grass fod­der in­stead of old­fash­ioned hay. The re­sult? The hare suf­fers famine and dis­tur­bance dur­ing the breed­ing time. The fix isn’t rocket sci­ence: it is pro­vid­ing undis­turbed cover and good graz­ing. Also, the brown hare needs a ‘close’ sea­son when it is not shot. Finally, and let’s not shirk this, we need to con­sider pro­tect­ing all our species of hare from the mod­ern pro­lif­er­a­tion of mam­malian preda­tors. Es­pe­cially ‘mr fox’. MS

Hares have often in­spired folk­lore tales and myths.

The Pri­vate Life of the Hare Dou­ble­day, £9.99

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.