Author Jess Price
I went for a walk at the Burgh near Burpham a few weeks ago to look for the elusive rough-legged buzzard that was reported in the area. Unfortunately the buzzard was a no-show, but I did spot a pair of brown hares. Now I know I’ve seen hares on the continent in France and Germany, but standing on that very exposed and very cold muddy farm track I realised that I’d never seen a brown hare in the UK.
It seemed quite amazing to me that living in Sussex for the majority of my life I’d never caught a glimpse of a brown hare. But I guess it is not really that surprising. The numbers of brown hare have gone way down in England over the last 100 years and being mainly nocturnal means hares have excellent camouflage during the day.
They don’t burrow like rabbits, instead they scrape out a small depression in the ground and spend the day hunkered down in it. It might seem strange to us that they would leave themselves so exposed, but from afar they really do just look like a brown lump. If a predator ever gets too close then they can usually rely on their outstanding ability to accelerate and the element of surprise to race away.
In fact baby hares, called leverets, are left in scrapes from pretty much the day they are born. Mothers only return to feed their offspring once a day at sunset, the rest of the time the young hares just sit tight where they are. Unfortunately this makes them very vulnerable to being killed by farm machinery and the intensification of agriculture is thought to be one of the causes of the decline in brown hares.
Despite what I have said so far there are actually plenty of places to see brown hares in Sussex. The South Downs Way is good, but basically anywhere with areas of cultivated fields, grassland and mixed farmland is a good shot. I recommend taking binoculars and scanning the fields for anything that looks like a cow pat.
Heading out early in the morning or at dusk is best. At this time of year you might even be lucky enough to see some ‘mad march hares’ racing about and ‘boxing’. Although this breeding behaviour occurs throughout most of the year, it is definitely easiest to catch a glimpse of it in early spring when the evenings are relatively light but the vegetation is still low. If you do manage to see a brown hare why not record your sighting on the WildCall pages.
If you would like to find out more about brown hares, Sussex Wildlife Trust is running a course, Life and Times of the brown hare on March 21st. See website for details.