Mad as a March Hare? Eva Phillips, Comms Officer

With March upon us it seems a good time to focus on the Brown Hare, which has the sad accolade of being one of the most rapidly declining mammals in the UK. Two hundred years ago there were an estimated four million of them in Britain – today 80% have disappeared.

Credit: Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION

It is believed hares were introduced to Britain by the Romans some 2,000 years ago though this is disputed, fossil records show their ancestors have been around since the dinosaurs. 

‘Harebrained’ and ‘Mad as a March Hare’ seem to relate to their behaviour, that of being easily startled and their ability to jump sideways and straight up, alongside the ‘boxing’ that accompanies mating rituals. Once thought to be males competing, it is now believed to be the females way of discouraging amorous males. Although mating takes place in March, it is a long season from February to August. Possibly the ‘March’ refers to ‘Marsh’, it is recorded that in 1500 in Blowbel’s Test "Thanne [th]ey begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare."

Boxing Hares

Credit: Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

The reflexes, combined with strong leg muscles mean that the hare is Britain’s fastest land mammal covering 10 meters in less than a second, reaching speeds of 45mph! Combined with its habit of holding its distinguishing black-tipped ears low giving it a rabbit look and hanging around in long grass make this animal elusive, though they have been spotted in the more rural areas of Birmingham and the Black Country.

A female can have up to three litters a year of one to four young, the young leverets are born with open eyes and fully furred. Hare’s are hands-off parents, feeding their young once a day for the first four weeks of their life, otherwise staying in the form until they are old enough to venture out and feed themselves. An adult weighs 3-4kg and can survive three to four years in the wild.

Hares are classed as game animals and as such can be managed by farmers and land owners who can see them as a pest. Some counties do still organise large shoots, reducing their number by 40% each year. However, while they have little legal protection, hare coursing, hunting with hounds, was banned in England in Wales in 2004 along with fox hunting.

There is hope for the future of the brown hare, the breeding season appears to be getting longer, possibly due to climate change (good for hares, possibly not so good for others) so with the habitat restoration work the Trust is undertaking creating wild corridors and wildflower meadows, numbers could grow rapidly. If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these marvellous mammals, please do let us know!