The brown hare is a common and conspicuous farmland species in Britain, probably introduced by the Romans in ancient times. It is widespread, but is absent from the north-west and western Highlands, where is it replaced by the mountain hare (Lepus timidus). The brown hare is present in Northern Ireland as a relatively recent introduction, where it competes with the indigenous mountain hare. Because of this, further action to support the population in Northern Ireland is discouraged, and this action plan is relevant only to the British mainland.
Formerly considered abundant, the brown hare appears to have undergone a substantial decline in numbers since the early 1960s, with population estimates now varying between 817,500 and 1,250,000. Information from shooting estates suggests that hare numbers have remained stable for the past ten years, although other evidence of this is unclear. Similar patterns of population change appear to have occurred throughout much of Europe.
Current factors causing loss or decline
Conversion of grassland to arable.
Loss of habitat diversity in the agricultural landscape.
Changes in planting and cropping regimes, such as a move from hay to silage, and autumn planting of cereals.
Various aspects of hare ecology have been studied in Britain at The Game Conservancy Trust, Bristol University and Oxford University.
Populations are currently monitored through numbers of hares seen or shot during hunting, or numbers counted in spring.
JNCC commissioned a survey from Bristol University which provides a baseline against which conservation policies and action may be assessed.
Experimental work in Denmark suggests that simplified farming systems lead to reduced breeding performance. This appears to account for the link between hare numbers and farming pattern.
Action plan objectives and targets
Maintain existing populations.
Expand existing populations, doubling spring numbers in Britain by 2010.
Proposed actions with lead agencies
Policy and legislation
Take account of the requirements of the brown hare when reviewing or developing agri-environmental schemes. (ACTION: CC, MAFF, SOAEFD, WO)
Consider the requirements of this species in any negotiations on changes to, or reform of, agricultural support, seeking to enhance the integration of livestock with arable farming. (ACTION: CC, MAFF, SOAEFD, WO)
Encourage the uptake of the new flexible set-aside scheme instead of rotational set aside, thereby allowing it to be left in place for two years and providing greater benefit to this species. (ACTION: ADAS, MAFF, SOAEFD, WOAD)
Review the use of legislation pertaining to shooting and selling of hares in the light of research findings on the seasonality of reproduction. (ACTION: CCW, DOE, NE, JNCC, SNH, SOAEFD, WO)
Site safeguard and management
No action proposed.
Species management and protection
Seek to develop a strategy for the conservation and monitoring of the brown hare (possibly as part of a wider mammals strategy). (ACTION: CCW, NE, SNH, JNCC)
Review legislation pertaining to the shooting and selling of the hare in the light of new research findings on the seasonality of hare productivity. (ACTION: DoE, JNCC)
Prepare and distribute a management advisory booklet for hares. (ACTION: JNCC)
Future Research and Monitoring
Promote further research to assess the effects of different agricultural practices (e.g. crops planted, cutting dates and cutting methods) on brown hare populations. (ACTION: NE, SNH)
Investigate the relative economic importance of hares as either a game species or a pest, to assist farmers make informed choices in hare management. (ACTION: MAFF, SOAEFD, WOAD)
Repeat the National Hare Survey at appropriate intervals. (ACTION: JNCC)
Pass information gathered during survey and monitoring of this species to JNCC in order that it can be incorporated in a national database and contribute to the maintenance of an up-to-date Red List. (ACTION: CCW, NE, SNH)
Communications and Publicity
Use the popularity of brown hares to highlight the impact on biodiversity of modern agricultural practices and loss of mixed farms. (ACTION: CCW, NE, JNCC, SNH)
Links with other action plans
Originally published in: Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report - Volume II: Action Plans (December 1995, Tranche 1, Vol 2, p83)
Visit the ARKive website to view images and further information relating to this species