Brown hare

Lepus europeus

Order: Lagomorpha

Brown hare – photo credit – Tim Preston

Description: golden-brown fur, pale belly, white tail, long ears with black tips. Long powerful back legs and slender bodies, white under tail. Eyes on the side of the head giving a wide range of vision.

Size: 50 to 70cm, adult.

Weight: 2.5-6.5kg (females heavier than males).

Average lifespan: 2 to 4 years, exceptionally 6 to 8 years.

Breeding season: Throughout all seasons, a doe will normally have two or three litters a year. The males will cluster around a doe in oestrus who will be selective about which male may mate with her and fight off unwanted males.  One to three young are born fully furred with eyes open. The doe will leave them in separate forms close to the place of birth, she feeds them just once a day.  The leverets will become independent at three weeks.

Habitat: A mosaic of fields both arable and grass, woods.

Diet: Hares will graze on tender grasses and herbage, and newly sown crops; also bark, twigs and buds, particularly of fruit trees.

Origin: Was probably introduced into Britain in the Iron Age and is now considered an indigenous species.

General ecology: Hares are not territorial but will cluster in groups where there is good grazing or when bucks gather round a doe who is in oestrus. Signs of the presence of hares include road kills, a small area of flattened grass where a hare has been lying known as a form and tracks of flattened grass known as a smeuses where a hare has passed regularly from one area to another, particularly under hedges or down banks.

Distribution in Shropshire: The distribution map shows that hares are fairly evenly spread across the county with fewer sightings in Telford and Oswestry, both areas with housing and dense human populations. Records of hares are more thinly spread in the Shropshire Hills the Long Mynd and north west Shropshire, where the habitat is not suitable for hares. Illegal hare coursing may have a short-term effect on the numbers of hares in an area with repeated coursing.  Records show that hares nationally have declined by 80% in the last century.

Local survey history: The only county wide survey that the writer is aware of is one conducted by the Wildlife and Conversation department of Bristol University in the winter 2000/2001, the writer was one of the volunteers that took part.

Predators: The main predators are foxes and badgers, leverets are particularly prone to being taken by these creatures.

Conservation status: Are a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which aims to expand existing populations.  At present hares are not protected by law as they are considered a game species. They are subject to being chased and caught by illegal hare coursers using lurchers.  These people can be very violent towards landowners and farmers who try to stop them. Other threats are human encroachment and habitat fragmentation.

Did you know: In the breeding season females fend off the advances of males by standing upright and hitting out with their front paws. This is thought to be the origin of the expression “as mad as a March hare”.

Bibliography: Collins Guide to the Mammals of Britain and Europe

On line: The Mammal Society


                The  Wildlife Trusts

Text: Barbara Ashton and Lynn Beseynei

Photo: Tim Preston

Field signs

Forms: A small area of flattened herbage called a form where a hare lies up. If undisturbed and if the food sources are good the hare will return to the same form for several days.

Tracks and flattened herbage called smeuses under hedges or fences used by hares to pass from one area to another, other species may also use these smeuses.

Droppings can be found on ground clear of plants or on the edge of woodland. They are generally brownish/green but can vary depending on the hare’s diet. Adults ones are 1.5 -2cm in size. They are larger than those of rabbits.

Prints: In snow, if a hare has been running the imprint of the hind legs appears between the prints of the front legs.

Text: Barbara Ashton

© Shropshire Mammal Group 2020