Thursday, 1 May 2014

On your marks, get set …

Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)


The taxonomic Order Lagomorpha comprises the hares, rabbits and pikas. The Brown Hare (L. europaeus) is the largest of the British lagomorphs. Since there is no evidence of their presence in Britain before Roman times, it was probably introduced by man. They are widespread on low ground throughout England and Wales. In Scotland, L. europaeus is found on farmland and rough grazing to the far north of the mainland, but is absent from parts of the North West. L. europaeus is replaced by the Mountain Hare, L. timidus, in upland areas of Scotland and central England.

Brown hares generally live in exposed habitats, and they rely on their acute senses and running at speeds of up to 70kph (45mph) to evade predation. Hares do not use burrows, but make a small depression in the ground, known as a form, amongst long grass. They spend most of the day on or near the form, typically moving out to feed in the open at night. Tender grass shoots, including cereal crops, are their main foods. Though generally solitary, hares sometimes band into loose groups when feeding.

Breeding takes place between February and September and a female can rear three or four litters a year, each of two to four young. The young, known as leverets, are born fully furred with their eyes open and are left by the female in forms a few metres from their birthplace. Once a day for the first four weeks of their lives, the leverets gather at sunset to be fed by the female, but otherwise they receive no parental care. This avoids attracting predators to the young at a stage when they are most vulnerable. Foxes are important predators of young hares and where foxes are common there are likely to be very few hares. Adults typically live to 3 or 4 years.

Numbers of hares have declined substantially since the beginning of this century, though they are still locally common animals in many parts of the country. The main reason for this decline seems to be a change in the way modern agriculture is managed. Today's farms are often intensive and specialised, either growing crops like wheat and oilseed rape, or raising livestock for meat and dairy produce. A hundred years ago most farms were varied enterprises. Mixed farms have a patchwork quilt of fields, which provide year-round grazing for hares as well as long crops for them to hide in. Modern cereal farms provide little or no food for hares in late summer and autumn, and livestock farms have few crops for them to shelter. Modern farm machinery and pesticides also kill many hares.

References:

Bjärvall, A. and Ullström, S., 1986. The Mammals of Britain and Europe. Beckenham, Kent: Croom Helm Ltd., pp. 60-62.
Corbet, G. B. and Harris, S., (eds.) 1991. The Handbook of British Mammals (3rd Edition). Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, pp. 154-161.

The Mammal Society (2014). Species fact sheet: Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus). Downloaded from www.mammal.org.uk on 1st May 2014.

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