If you follow the meteorological seasons Spring is already with us; however, if it is the astronomical method you use, you will have to wait until March the 20th…. Either way Spring will finally be with us this month – and you might be lucky enough to spot a mad March hare….
Some believe the European hare (Lepus Europaeus) was brought to the UK by the Romans; whilst they most likely did introduce them to the rest of Europe (probably from Asia) there is evidence hares did not actually arrive in the UK until just after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Nowadays the European hare can be found widespread throughout Central and Western Europe and most of the UK – preferring flat countryside with open grassland. As they are more active at night they will rest during the day in woodland and hedgerows….
Hares are members of the Lagomorpha family and so are related to the rabbit, but unlike their bunny cousins they have never been domesticated. Although similar in appearance, hares are larger in size than rabbits; they also have longer black tipped ears, longer tails and longer more powerful limbs, enabling them to reach speeds of potentially 45mph – making them Britain’s fastest land animal….
Their breeding season is between January and August – and is accompanied by high jinx leaps, bounds and ‘boxing’ – (hares can jump backwards and sideways as well as forwards)…. We associate this mad behaviour with March but this is only because it is more visible to us in March and April. We also often assume the boxing is two males fighting – but more often it is the female throwing the punches….trying to ward off an over-amorous male – she may also be seeing how strong he is and deciding whether he is a worthy mate….
A male hare is called a ‘jack’, whereas the female is known as a ‘jill’…. She will produce up to 3 litters a year of up to 4 leverets at a time…. Unlike rabbits, hares do not live underground in burrows but have simple nests; the young are born with fur and open eyes….
Generally hares are solitary or live in pairs; the collective name is a ‘drove’…. Hares are herbivores, eating herbs, bark and twigs but mainly grass in the Winter months….they do not hibernate….
The hare population in the UK is under serious threat; since the late 1800s the numbers have declined by some 80%. Predators include foxes, weasels, stoats, polecats, buzzards and golden eagles – but the biggest predator of all has to be man. Traditionally the hare is a game animal – it is also sometimes considered a pest as it can cause damage to crops and cereal. Around 300,000 a year are shot in Britain; unlike much other game the hare is not protected by a closed hunting season, so even during the breeding season they can be shot. This in itself is a double whammy for the hare population as it means by killing the adults their young are left to starve….
Disease takes its toll; particularly European Brown Hare Syndrome (EBHS) which is highly contagious – (hares are not affected by Myxomatosis)…. Other causes of death include being killed on roads and by farm machinery – especially during grass cutting time…. Another major contributor to their decline is modern-day farming methods….in the last 50 years 150,000 miles of hedgerow have been destroyed in the UK – depriving the brown hare of shelter and food….
These wonderful creatures have been around since the time of the dinosaurs (proven by fossil evidence)…. It would be unthinkable to allow the European brown hare to disappear from Britain altogether – the least we can do is to stop shooting them!