Cheshire Wildlife - As mad as a March hare
With winter gently loosening its grip, Cheshire Wildlife Trust's Tom Marshall discovers a creature that truly springs into action in March
Wildlife has slowly hopped, flown or stealthily stalked its way into the English language over the years. We can be up with the lark, as sly as a fox, or indeed have the work ethic of a bee. But you really can only be mad as a March hare. Such a reputation surely isn’t helped by being at the head of perhaps the daftest dinner table of all in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Along with another literary figure, the smaller river-dwelling water vole - he of ‘Ratty’ and Wind in the Willows fame - the brown hare now finds itself in the precarious position as one of the most rapidly declining mammals in the UK.
Sometimes hard to distinguish at a distance, the hare’s larger and black-tipped ears help to set it apart from rabbits, who often have their ears ‘pricked’, whereas their larger counterparts regularly drop their ears close to their head to maintain that all important low-profile.
This wide-eyed icon of the spring countryside has often struggled to adapt to the simplification and urbanisation that has been brought to its rural home. The brown hare’s apprehensive nature - leading to a reliance on staying statuesque still rather than springing its powerful legs into action, can lead to trouble in a habitat that rumbles to the sound of fast, powerful and efficient machinery.
The sight of ‘boxing’ hares though remains a sure sign of the changing of the seasons, and if the autumn rutting of deer is a rough and tumble back-street brawl, then the hare offers viewers a highly-skilled prize fight where every move is considered with the prowess of Ali or Cooper. Not so much ‘mad’ as once thought, but simply rolling with the punches.
Originally believed to be over-competitive males showcasing their bravado or seeing off potential rivals, we now know that these extraordinary bouts of furry fisticuffs are in fact female hares seeing off the over-amorous affections of the males. These spring gatherings are one of the few occasions where hares will come together, unlike their regularly socialising cousins, the rabbits.
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The subterranean lifestyle of the rabbit isn’t shared by the hare either, who in fact lives its whole life above ground, in a rather nomadic fashion. For the hare, wherever it lays its ears, that’s its home.
Unlike the haphazard scampering of their smaller cousin, the hare possesses an impressive pair of hind legs, capable of propelling it to speeds in excess of 45mph. Such speed can be easily accomplished during a dash along a country road or through the winding tractor trials found in their home among the fields.
This almost unparalleled athleticism among British mammals comes from the hare’s huge back legs, highly flexible spine and extra-stretchy tendons. Couple this with an energy-storing criss-cross action with their front legs when in full flow, and the hare can cover several feet with each leap. So you can be fairly sure that without an unscheduled afternoon nap, in the case of the hare and the tortoise there really can be only one winner.
A Living LandscapeThe brown hare is just one creature that can benefit from 'landscape scale' conservation. While nature reserves can provide an important refuge for our wildlife, and a focus for dedicated efforts in bringing particular species back from the brink, it is also important to connect these often fragmented parts of the urban and rural jigsaw together.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust is thinking big and working hard to achieve this through our Living Landscape scheme. By improving existing nature reserves and working with landowners, farmers and local communities we are aiming to restore, recreate and reconnect wildlife habitats across Cheshire, starting with the Gowy and Mersey Washlands.
By making often subtle changes to our environment, we can build 'corridors' that allow wildlife of all shapes and sizes to move safely from one area of optimum habitat to another, in turn giving creatures the chance to adapt to factors that maybe outside of our control such as climate change.
In making these changes, whether it be using native breed cattle to create suitable habitats for wading birds, or employing traditional methods to stabilise river banks for water voles, we are also creating an environment that can be robust in face of impacts on our own lives such as flooding and the quality of our waterways.
To learn more about what Cheshire Wildlife Trust is doing for wildlife in your part of Cheshire, or to give your support for the next phase of the Living Landscape project, visit the website at www.cheshirewildlifetrust.co.uk or call 01948 820728
Follow them on twitter @CheshireWT
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