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Brown hare

It is thought that brown hares originated in the grasslands of central Asia and were introduced into Britain during Roman times. Brown hares are much larger than rabbits and have tawny fur and very long, black-tipped ears. They live exclusively above ground, resting in shallow excavations, called forms, up to 10cm deep. Speed is their main defence and they can run at up to 72 km per hour to escape predators. As they run, they tuck their tail down so that the white underside is not visible – unlike rabbits, which hold their tail up, flashing its white markings. Hares are mostly active at night and generally forage at dusk and dawn. Although they are mainly solitary, hares come together in small groups in late winter and during courtship, which often involves several males chasing a female.

Head-body length: 48 – 70cm
Ear length: About same length as head
Weight: 2 – 5kg (females are on average slightly heavier than males)
Lifespan: Typically 2 – 3 years; 5% of individuals live more than five years. The oldest known wild animal was 12.5 years old

Reproduction

Hares breed from February to September and females can have up to four litters per year, each of four young (called leverets) on average. Females look after the leverets on their own and the young are weaned after 3 – 4 weeks.

Diet

Grasses; young cereal and other arable crops. Shrubs are browsed in winter if snow makes grazing difficult.

Habitat

Mainly arable farmland; also grassland with sheltered areas in long grass, hedgerows and pasture.

Predators

Mostly foxes

Threats

Agricultural intensification, grazing pressure and hunting (both as game and as a pest when numerous). 

Status & conservation

Non-native and common. The brown hare has a Species Action Plan under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which aims to expand existing populations. However, hares have minimal legal protection because they are considered a game species and can be shot throughout the year, including through their breeding season. They are the only game species in the UK without a closed season, when hunting is prohibited.

Population size & distribution

UK population 817,500. There is no clear population trend either over the last 25 or 10 years and national distribution is now relatively out of date. They are widely distributed throughout Britain but are almost entirely absent from Ireland and north-west Scotland. Hares are most abundant in lowland cereal-growing counties, particularly East Anglia. They do seem to be rare in south-west England.

Did you know?

‘Boxing hares’ are females fending off the attentions of amorous males during courtship by standing upright and striking out with their front paws. This gave rise to the phrase ‘mad as a March hare’ but it occurs throughout the breeding season, over several months.

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