BROWN HARES IN CUMBRIA
image is a detail from a painting by Martin Ridley.
Hares were introduced to Britain about 2000 years ago, possibly
in Roman times or just before. The native Mountain Hare was
pushed to marginal habitat in the hills of Scotland, with a
small remnant population remaining in the Peak District. Although
not an endangered species, there has been a 75% decline in Brown
hares since 1945, as farming methods have become more intensive
Brown Hare is most at home in arable areas where there is a
patchwork of small fields with a mixture of grass, cereal and
root crops to provide continuity of food at different times
of the year. They dislike high densities of livestock and grazed
pasture where there is insufficient cover. Therefore, Cumbria
is not generally ideal for Brown Hares although they do occur
in small numbers throughout the county. Highest concentrations
are found in the Eden Valley and on the Solway Plain where the
most suitable habitat occurs. Fewer records come from the western
coastal plain between Furness and Workington. Most records in
Cumbria are of single animals.
are nocturnal and unlikely to be seen during the day in autumn
and early winter. They rest during the day in "forms"
or hollows in long grass, where they digest the night's food
intake. The main breeding season is from March to June when
hares may be seen together, especially just after dawn and before
dusk. Leverets are left unattended in the open - after the first
few days they are moved singly into separate forms and suckled
only once per day for a few minutes.
of hares fluctuate between years. Breeding success depends on
good weather in early summer - wet and cold takes a heavy toll
on the unattended leverets. Leverets also suffer heavy predation
from foxes and buzzards, especially if the cover is poor. Early
grass cutting for silage is another reason why leverets are
killed. All of these factors are likely to make life difficult
for hares in a county like Cumbria.
have large eyes and long ears (with characteristic black tips),
enabling them to detect predators early. Their long and powerful
hind legs give then a rapid means of escape.
have little legal protection and are often hunted as game or
to control their numbers where they cause excess damage to crops
(more usually in horticulture). Because of the decline brought
about by recent farming practices, financial support is available
under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme to help farmers who
have hares on their land. Set-aside land in field corners and
20 metre strips of uncultivated land can provide both grazing
and cover. Farmers are encouraged to cut fields from the inside
outwards, enabling hares to escape to neighbouring fields.
1998 extensive surveying of Brown Hares has been undertaken
in Cumbria to determine their distribution and to try to establish
whether declines are occurring.