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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

The Brown hare under threat.

The brown hare is a solitary creature of open countryside and is a creature of the night for most of the year. Now and again he is abroad in daylight to feed. However, he is inconspicuous and I have spent many hours scanning pasture land with my binoculars to ascertain if one is out feeding at that time. A foray to its known haunts has occasionally rewarded me with a sighting of the creatures mad sort of galloping which can only be described as one of the most entertaining of the mammal fraternity.

On one rare excursion { rare because my canine companion could not accompany me because of an injured paw} one of these beautiful animals almost let me step upon it before it moved. I was a good deal more surprised by this than my wild friend. Off he went scampering over the field, through the hedgerow mounting the opposite bank it lopped with ease before disappearing over the horizon and out of sight.

BELOW--- The brown hare is a very wary creature and rightly so. Photograph courtesy of Ansgar Walk creative commons share alike.

Fun of the chase.

When my canine companion is with me the hare more readily takes to flight, with Katy my small lurcher, in hot pursuit. I love to see her chase a hare. Not in the name of sport or anyway a sense of blood lust, but to observe two magnificent animals doing what they are born to do . I have seen Katy gaining ground on the creature, but experience has taught me this can be a misleading impression. The hare was toying with her. The creatures long ears were still erect the equivalent of a fast car being driven in second gear. Katy got within 3 meters of the hare when the animal flattened its ears upon its back, the powerful legs went into the equivalent of a cars turbo drive, and within seconds the hare was 50 meters ahead of her. What a marvelous sight this is to a countryman! Minutes later Katy would return to me panting madly, the energy used up in this chase-a days normal exercise. A dog pursuing a hare on its own territory has little if any chance of capturing its quarry. The hare was going about his business of surviving. It was now, quite likely,to be sat on its haunches cleaning itself, unperturbed by recent events.

Rabbits may bolt for their front "door" in the face of danger, but the hare who spends his life above ground relies on his superior speed, excellent eye sight, immaculate hearing, sense of smell and its powerful limbs to survive.

Description of the brown hare.

The brown hare despite its common name varies a great deal in its colouration. Age having much to answer for in this respect.The general colour of local hares is of a tawny grey colour above tinged with furous, while the under parts are white. The large long ears are tipped with black. The tail is black above and white below. The total length of this athletic animal is about two feet.

BELOW---note the black tips on the hare's ears. photograph courtesy of 3268 zauber. Creative Commons Share Alike.

Mad March Hare.

The brown hare is a solitary creature for much of the year, that is until the breeding season is upon them. In the north of England this usually occurs in March. "Mad March Hares'" can be seen on our hills and pastures at this time. They box like kangaroos and it is a delight to watch these antics. These normally cautious  and inconspicuous creatures throw caution to the wind when love is in the air. A frenzy of activity is carried out often in broad daylight as they chase each other around the meadows.

This phenomena of hares boxing each other was once thought to be males fighting for dominance. However, studies have revealed it occurs more so between males {Jacks} and the females {Jills} who may be testing the males determination, a prelude to mating. Or it may well be that the Jill is not ready to mate, if this is the case, the boxing can become very aggressive. The male will eventually mate with many females.

The gestation period between mating and birth is usually 42-44 days. The babies known as  leverets are born fully clothed and with their eyes open. They very quickly become independent as befits their life style. The female will take them out on to her territory and leave them hidden in forms { a scrape in the ground} returning to feed them now and again.

I recall on one foray of mine I happened across a clearing pink with willow herbs, where two leverets were playing on a track, above which pigeons softly crooned in the lofty boughs. Sightings like this remain forever in the memory of nature lovers.

Unfortunately, as a species the brown hare is in decline through the U.K. as a whole. Much of this decline has taken place since the 1960s. The rate of decline has been 2% per year during the 1990s. During the 1991/92 National Hare Surveys it was revealed that the fall in numbers has been more pronounced in western pastoral Britain than in the eastern arable lands

Conversely, in the region of West Lancashire, situated in the north west of England, they are still quite numerous and it is regarded as a stronghold for these beautiful creatures.  Sadly they are now , as is the case with many other creatures in the U.K., classed as a Priority Species of Conservation Concern, and a species action plan is currently being implemented by conservation organizations to halt and hopefully reverse the decline.

Latest Conservation Issues.

June 2012--- Hare numbers have declined from around 4 million a century ago to just 750,000-800,000 hares today. Although it is illegal to hunt hares with dogs, it is not illegal to shoot them for "sport". Tens of thousands of leverets starve to death each year when their nursing mothers are shot. it is estimated that around 400,000 hares are shot each year, potentially 50% of their total population.

Every other Game species in the UK has a close season, and close seasons for hares operates in Northern Ireland, Scotland and much of main land Europe already. merely by bringing England into line with the rest, the hare population would have some breathing space and would almost certainly gain back ground. Hares were part of a Government Species Action Plan in 1995 that aimed to double their numbers by 2010; this target was not met.

Many shoots are organised { legally } during February and March the peak breeding season for this mammal. In a 2004 report DEFRA stated, " It could be argued that the introduction of a close season  might be beneficial in terms of animal welfare through a reduction in culling of lactating mothers with dependent off spring."

Hare hunting should be banned during the breeding season--urge your MP to sign a motion.!!!

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