As the world shuts down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.
We’ve made it to the end of the month and I’m sure you’ll all agree that it was a very mad March. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, of the 584 months I’ve been on this planet, that was the maddest.
When we were evicting the monster from the greenhouse on Sunday I found the skull of a Brown Hare. I can’t resist bringing home skulls I find on my rambles and I tried to remember whereabouts on the South Downs I found this particular one. But all this skull reminded me of was East London.
Many years ago, I had a group of friends in the big city and found myself attending their dinner parties in the gentrified terraces of East London. During one such soirée, a guest who was desperate to impress boasted that, as next week’s host, he would be cooking us all a hare (it must have been a recent recipe featured on some celebrity chef’s rural cooking show). Everyone was keen to try this latest food fad but it really angered me. I put down my cutlery and asked if anyone at the table had ever actually seen a hare in the wild. My question was met with silence and killed the party dead. I’d like to think that I then launched into an impassioned rant about the majestic, untamed magnificence of the hare and society’s disconnection with nature, before heroically throwing down my napkin and storming out. In reality, there was cheesecake for dessert so I wearily sighed and carried on eating. But from that moment I knew two things; hares don’t belong at trendy Shoreditch dinner parties and neither did I. I finished my cheesecake and never returned. And I still maintain that if you’ve witnessed the reckless energy of a Brown Hare cavorting in a Sussex sunrise then the very idea of killing and eating them is, well, madness.
(Brown Hare photo by Darin Smith)
On paper a hare could easily be dismissed as a big rabbit but they’re different beasts altogether; it’s all in the way they move. A hare possesses powerful hind legs; a pair of pistons that can send them rocketing towards the horizon at over 40 mph. Hares are mostly nocturnal. They don’t burrow underground but instead spend their days hidden in a shallow scrape (a form). Young hares (leverets) are all born in separate forms and attentive mother hares return to secretly suckle them undercover of dusk.
(Brown Hare hidden in its form, photo by Bob Eade)
In spring amorous male hares approach females in the hope of finding a mate. But chatting up a hare is a risky business. Potential sexual partners can suddenly transform into sparring partners. Uninterested female hares rise up and strike a blow for equality by punching the males in the face. The frenzied ‘boxing matches’ that ensue are such a striking spectacle that they have given us the phrase ‘as mad as a March hare’.
('Mad March Hares', photo by Elliot Neep)
Yet who are we to be questioning the hare’s mental stability? Us hare-brained humans used to believe that sprinting hares could start fires and that witches transformed into hares and could only be killed with silver bullets. Hares have been closely associated with Pagan springtime fertility rituals and the goddess Eostre. And they still play a role in our Easter celebrations (albeit watered down, chocolate covered and transformed into the Easter Bunny). Their prominence in the English countryside has also diminished. Numbers have declined due to changes in farming practices, especially the removal of hedgerows.
I clean up the hare skull and put it on the shelf in the greenhouse alongside two badger skulls, more souvenirs from Sussex hikes.
(two Badgers skulls found in Sussex woodlands and a Brown Hare skull)
It's time to put the madness of March 2020 behind us. The month that the entire world changed.
Now all we have to do is get through April.