Management of the Brown hare
The pre breeding (over winter) population of the Brown hare in Britain is estimated now, after much adversity 50-100 years ago, to be relatively stable at 800,000.
Hares prosper in areas of mixed arable/stock farming and numbers are therefore substantially greater in the east of the country.
Adverse weather and epidemic diseases can have a substantial impact on the survival of young hares (leverets). Conversely, (the hare being a prolific breeder) favourable conditions may lead to explosive rises in the population, which are usually controlled by shooting
Shooting is necessary to control the damage caused to crops and forestry by excessive numbers of hares but it carries the substantial welfare problem of wounding. Up to 25% of hares may not be killed outright by shotguns on hare shoots, half of which may not be recovered even when well trained retrievers are used.
Hunting with hounds (beagles, bassets, and harriers) therefore provides an essential search and dispatch system for retrieving wounded animals following hare shoots. It also detects and dispatches other weak and diseased animals in direct relation to their degree of debility thereby helping to maintain the health and vigour of the population as a whole.
Foxes are major predators of hares but the expanding populations of badgers and large raptors such as buzzards and red kites, are also having an increasing impact on hare numbers. Hare numbers are often highest where coursing and hunting takes place since their habitat is conserved and foxes are controlled. Control of the other predators is presently illegal.
The Game Conservancy Trust has estimated that the Biodiversity Action Plan to double the Brown hare population by 2010 could be met by a combination of sympathetic mixed farming and predator control. They also highlight the need for strict control of pesticides and poachers.
There can be little doubt that the voluntary countrywide network of hunts and coursing interests represents the best custodians for the hare, both in terms of conservation and in the humane function of search and dispatch of wounded and sick animals.
For more information on the subject including:
The need to manage some wildlife populations;
The role of hunts as custodians of the hare;
The search and dispatch function of hunting;
How the Biodiversity Action Plan for the hare may be achieved;
- The need to manage some wildlife populations, A.McDiarmid and L.H.Thomas, November 2002
- A Veterinary Opinion on Hunting with Hounds, L.H.Thomas and W.R.Allen (2002)
- A Question of Balance, edited by S.Tapper, The Game Conservancy Trust, Fordingbridge, Hants. (1999) available from the GCT (www.gct.org.uk)
- Conserving the brown hare (2002) S.Tapper and D.Hobson