February 2, 2012
Threats to Hares in the UK
The brown hare (Lepus europaeus) and the upland mountain hare (Lepus timidus) have suffered serious population declines during the last century, with brown hare numbers estimated to have plummeted by 80 percent since 1880.
Much of the decline has been due to changes in land use and agricultural policy. Intensification of farming has resulted in a reduction of the hares’ most favourable habitat and the large machinery used to cut crops can easily kill hidden young. The impact of habitat loss has been recognised, and Natural England has introduced environmental stewardship initiatives to encourage farming practices that are more favourable to wildlife, for instance the cutting of fields from the middle outwards, allowing wildlife to escape farm machinery by fleeing to the sides.
Hare coursing, in which pairs of dogs are encouraged to chase hares in order to win points, and hare hunting, which sees packs of dogs driven to chase and kill a hare, are now illegal in Scotland (since 2002), England and Wales (since 2004), but illegal coursing and poaching still threaten these animals. Hare coursing was banned in Northern Ireland in 2011.
It remains legal to shoot hares, and each year tens of thousands of leverets are left to suffer and die when pregnant and nursing females are killed during the spring and summer months.
Scotland recently introduced legislation that makes it an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take brown hares during their breeding season from 1 February to 30 September (and mountain hares from 1 March to 31 July). Much of mainland Europe and Northern Ireland already have such protection in place. However, hares in England still lack this protection.
A report for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in 2004  stated that “Enhancing survival and particularly leveret (juvenile hare) survival should be a specific target for conservation action.”
1. An overview of the current status and protection of the Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus) in the UK. A report prepared for European Wildlife Division, Defra by Dr David Cowan, Central Science Laboratory, 2004. DEFRA.