Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) - Species Action Plan

Ref  1/S2 Species Action Plan 2
Plan Author: Natural England
Plan Co-ordinator: Farmland BAP Topic Group
Plan Leader: Norfolk County Council
Final Draft: 31 December 1998
Revised Final Draft January 2006

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • The brown hare was probably introduced to Britain by the Romans. Although it is widespread and common in some agricultural areas, it is in serious decline in others, particularly pastoral areas.
  • Population trends are available, derived from the National Game Bag Census by the Game Conservancy Trust. At the turn of the century, the species was abundant throughout England, Scotland and Wales except on higher parts of mountains. After the late 1920s, numbers declined until the later half of the Second World War. Numbers then increased until 1960 and then declined steadily during the following two decades. The national population has been more or less stable for the past decade.
  • A mid-winter estimate of the population, at the start of the breeding season but before the onset of the main hare-culling season, is 817,500: 572,250 in England, 187,250 in Scotland and 58,000 in Wales.
  • Hares may be shot by occupiers of land throughout the year. The Hares Preservation Act 1892 prohibits the sale (but not the killing or taking of hares) during March-July inclusive.

Norfolk Status

  • Brown hares are more numerous in Norfolk than in most other counties and therefore Norfolk has a particular responsibility for safeguarding its population. They are found throughout the county and are relatively abundant in some areas, such as north Norfolk. Hares are generally common on arable land throughout the county and on grazing marshes in the Broads area. However, as with the national situation, numbers are lower than they were in the 1960s. Numbers fluctuate locally but probably increase in years with warm springs and warm late-summers. Data from the National Game Bag Census indicates peak numbers of up to 50/100ha in Norfolk in 1911, a steady decline to a trough of about 10/100ha through 1940-1955, rising again to about 22/100ha in 1961. There then followed a rapid decline to about 5/100ha over the last 30 years, with only the slightest sign of recovery more recently.

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Current factors causing loss or decline in Norfolk

  • Changes in farming practices, in particular the adoption of break crops instead of grass leys and an overall drop in farm diversity associated with an increase in field size, have probably led to the overall decline since the 1960s.
  • A change to more intensive grass management, particularly regular cutting of grass with forage harvesters and inappropriately timed cutting of setaside will have increased leveret mortality.
  • An increase in the numbers of foxes and large avian predators in Norfolk is likely to have an impact on hare numbers as they are the main predators of leverets.
  • Local disease outbreaks can have an impact. In particular, populations can be affected by coccidiosis, yersiniosis and European brown hare syndrome, though this is highly variable.
  • Shooting can reduce numbers and organised hare shoots may reduce spring populations by over 50%. However, organised shoots normally only take place in areas where hares are numerous and likely to cause agricultural damage and are not in most cases a significant threat to the species.
  • Rabbit numbers have now largely recovered since myxomatosis and hares certainly profited when rabbit numbers were lower.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • The Game Conservancy Trust monitors hare numbers shot on a number of farms and estates in Norfolk as part of their Game Bag Census.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets

National

  • Maintain existing populations.
  • Expand existing populations, doubling spring numbers in Britain by 2010.

Norfolk

  • Maintain and where possible enhance the current numbers in Norfolk.

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