The march hare

19 March 2019

England and Wales’ National Parks are home to two types of hare and early spring is the best time to see them. Campaign for National Parks’ Andrew Hall has more on this charismatic wildlife…

The phrase “mad as a march hare” evokes not just the fantastical world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland but also reflects the rambunctious behaviour of hares this time of year. England and Wales’ National Parks are home to two types of hare and early spring is the best time to see them.

Of the brown and mountain hare, you are far more likely to see the former than the latter. The story of both is one of introduction to the landscape.

An icon of the countryside

A beautiful brown hare in the Yorkshire Dales. Photo credit: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

The more common brown hare is thought to have been brought over by Roman settlers. It’s fair to say the brown hare might be thought to look like a supped-up rabbit. These icons of the countryside require range of habitats to thrive including hedgerows, woodland and pasture subsequently they have a much wider spread than the mountain hares and can be found across most National Parks in England and Wales. And owing to their habitat of lots of different habitat types – spotting a brown hare can be indicative of a healthy and robust ecosystem.

However, the brown hare faces significant threats. Agricultural intensification has thought to have driven declines in brown hare populations and wildlife persecution may threat some local populations. Sadly, spotting the antics of the brown hare is a much more unusual sight than it should be.

A mountain hare in the Peak DistrictA mountain hare in the Peak District. Photo credit: Moors for the future.

Mountain hares, with their colour-changing fur and high-up moorland homes, were wiped out from England in the last ice age but reintroduced during the 19th Century to the Peak District for sport. This remains the only place in England they can be found, despite historic attempts to reintroduce them in other places such as the Lake District. As an isolated population the mountain hares of the Peak District are subject to a number of pressures including habitat loss and a changing climate.

Spotting a hare can be tricky. The brown hare has been known to clock speeds over 70km per hour – so seeing one might mean spotting a speedy tawny blur on the landscape! In winter the stunning white of the mountain hare can also disguise the animal in snowy landscapes.

Mountain hare in Scotland

 

A mountain hare blending in with the snowy landscape spotted in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo credit: Jon Roberts.

However, you might be lucky enough to observe the behaviour of ‘boxing hares’ – and while they actually do this throughout the year, early spring is a great time to see them in action. The boxing hares are the females spurning the advances of the males and makes for an exciting athletic display for everyone to enjoy.

Campaign for National Parks are campaigning to improve the National Parks for all wildlife including hares. We believe experiencing the activity of our wildlife is part of what makes the Parks special but at the moment we are experiencing a decline in nature. We want to see conservation at a landscape scale – protecting the mosaic of habitats that species such as hare require to thrive. We are also calling for stronger protections to end illegal wildlife persecution that blights the future of a number of species even in our National Parks.

You can help our campaign by joining as a friend today.

Andrew Hall

Campaign for National Parks.