Looking after our fastest land mammal

Brown hare, photo by Jim Higham

Brown hare, photo by Jim Higham - Credit: Archant

The National Trust is working closely with farmers to reconnect important habitats together and reverse the dramatic decline in Kent of the hare

The fastest land mammal in the UK; there are few more majestic sights in the countryside than a hare sprinting across an open field.

Sadly, however, the numbers of this iconic farmland species, now rarely glimpsed, have declined dramatically.

Some of this decline is attributable to modern farming practices reducing the amount of food available at different times of the year, increasing vulnerability to predators, and affecting breeding success.

Large fields, hare-coursing, agricultural intensification and the increased use of machinery have all affected hare numbers.

Kent Wildlife Trust works with farmers and landowners to provide advice on wildlife-friendly management, providing habitats such as grass buffer strips that are beneficial for hares.

Alongside this the Trust is working towards a Living Landscape: a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country, which are valuable for both wildlife and people. The hare’s survival is dependent upon a landscape of well-connected and good-quality habitat which is, in turn, rich in biodiversity.

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There once used to be four million brown hares across Britain with the last estimate putting their populations at around 700,000. In some areas of the country they are locally extinct and, after the water vole, it is the second British mammal to have suffered the greatest decline in the last century.

In Kent, numbers have declined dramatically and the distribution is now limited mostly to north Kent and Romney marshes where the Trust is working closely with farmers to reconnect important habitats together and reverse this decline.

Did you know?

? The brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is an animal of much mythology and whether boxing, attending tea parties, or masquerading as the Easter Bunny, it is a potent symbol of many things; creativity, regeneration and eternity.

? Unlike a baby rabbit (kitten) that is born with no hair and its eyes closed, a baby hare (leveret) is born with fur and its eyes open and can run within a few minutes of being born.

? Unlike rabbits, hares do not dig and burrow into the ground, but instead live their whole lives above ground. They do not have a particular home and will sleep in any suitable spot, continually shifting from one place to another.

? Hares are a lot larger than rabbits and can weigh twice as much.

? A hare’s ears are larger than rabbits, with distinct black tips, and their hind legs are slightly longer.

? Hares are golden brown in colour, whereas rabbits tend to be grey.

? Hares can run at 70 km/h (43 mph) and when confronted by predators they rely on outrunning them in the open.

? Brown hares are famed for their boxing matches during the mating season and face each other in open fields, sometimes with an audience of hares.

? The collective noun for a group of hares is a ‘drove’. n

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