GWCT National Gamebag Census & Tracking Mammals Partnership

Brown hare Lepus europaeus

Taxonomy: Class: Mammalia; Order: Lagomorpha; Family: Leporidae

Description

Brown hare photo
Brown hare © Alexis de la Serre

The brown hare is a herbivorous mammal that frequents open agricultural habitats, where it is active mainly at night. It differs in shape from the rabbit by a larger body, longer hind legs and longer ears with black tips. Hares are a traditional game animal, but because they can cause damage to cereal crops, shrubs and young trees they are also sometimes treated as pests.

In England and Wales, the brown hare can be shot throughout the year on enclosed land, while on moorland or unenclosed non-arable land, it can be shot between 11 December and 31 March. In Scotland, since 2011, the brown hare can be shot between 1 October and 31 January. In Northern Ireland, it can be shot between 12 August and 31 January.

Further information:
Mammal Society website brown hare page.

Conservation status and legislation

Status:
UK: Native. Priority species under the UK Biodoversity Action Plan
World: Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

Legislation:
 
Logo NBN Gateway © Crown Copyright. All rights reserved NERC 100017897 2004
Source: National Biodiversity Network and its data providers, who bear
no responsibility for interpretation of the 10x10-km grid map
 

Distribution and abundance

The brown hare is found throughout Great Britain except in parts of the far north. It is present on Orkney, the Inner Hebrides and the Clyde islands, and has been introduced to the Isle of Man. There are a very few in Northern Ireland, where it is not native, because of former introduction attempts.

Estimates of brown hare abundance (numbers of individuals in the spring) across the UK, from Harris et al. (1995):

United Kingdom 817,500
England 572,250
Scotland 187,250
Wales 58,000
N Ireland very few

Recent trends from the National Gamebag Census

United Kingdom

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Brown hare trend United Kingdom

There has been a significant decline in the bag index between 1961 and 2009. The trend has reversed since the 1980s (significant increase of over 50% since 1987). The decline phase has been linked to the reduction of agricultural diversity through intensification, and increased predation pressure as fox numbers rose. The increase phase coincides with the introduction of set-aside and agri-environment schemes that have restored some habitat diversity to farmland.

Change in brown hare bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
United Kingdom 1195 1961 2009 -46*
-67 to -23
59*
1 to 131
38*
3 to 76

* significant at P < 0.05

England

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Brown hare trend England

There has been a significant decline in the bag index between 1961 and 2009. The trend has reversed since the 1980s. The decline phase has been linked to the reduction of agricultural diversity through intensification, and increased predation pressure as fox numbers rose. The increase coincides with the introduction of set-aside and agri-environment schemes that have restored some habitat diversity to farmland.

Change in brown hare bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
England 914 1961 2009 -42*
-67 to -14
66
-2 to 138
39*
1 to 77

* significant at P < 0.05

Scotland

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Brown hare trend Scotland

There has been a significant decline in the bag index between 1961 and 1985. The trend stabilised at this low level thereafter. The decline may have resulted from the loss of arable pockets in a broadly pastoral landscape as agriculture intensified, especially in the uplands, as well as from increased predation pressure as fox numbers rose.

Change in brown hare bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Scotland 235 1961 2009 -76*
-99 to -49
-11
-52 to 52
12
-38 to 96

* significant at P < 0.05

Wales

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2007 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Brown hare trend Wales

There has been a significant decline in the bag index between 1961 and 2009. No bag returns have been reported during many of the years between 2000 and 2009. The decline may have resulted from the loss of arable pockets in a broadly pastoral landscape as agriculture intensified, especially in the uplands, as well as from increased predation pressure as fox numbers rose.

Change in brown hare bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Wales 34 1961 2007 -98*
-99 to -96
-95*
-151 to -85
-78*
-926 to -72

* significant at P < 0.05

N Ireland

There are too few bag records of brown hare to produce an index graph. Brown hare trend N Ireland

 

There are too few bag records of brown hare to evaluate rates of change over time

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
N Ireland Too few sites

Environmental zones

Change in brown hare bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Environmental zone Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Easterly lowlands (England/Wales) 626 1961 2009 -43*
-66 to -9
64*
3 to 142
35
-3 to 81
Westerly lowlands (England/Wales) 218 1961 2009 -59*
-81 to -28
39
-39 to 129
52
-33 to 157
Uplands (England/Wales) 96 1961 2009 -55
-87 to 48
16
-60 to 377
69
-38 to 491
Lowlands (Scotland) 91 1961 2009 -90*
-95 to -74
-49*
-75 to -2
-39
-62 to 15
Intermediate uplands/islands (Scotland) 37 1961 2009 -49
-93 to 24
32
-80 to 136
97
-72 to 293
True uplands (Scotland) 109 1961 2009 -62*
-88 to -13
17
-53 to 106
53
-38 to 220

* significant at P < 0.05

Comparison with BBS mammal data

Since 1995, data on brown hare abundance have been collected under the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) organised by the British Trust for Ornithology. Below, the UK trend from the NGC is compared to the one from the BBS (from 1995 onwards).

NGC index of bag density (blue) and BBS index of abundance (red), from 1995 to 2009.
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Brown hare: comparison of UK trends from GWCT and BTO

The BBS reported a relatively stable trend since the start of the survey in 1995. The NGC brown hare bag trend showed a significant increase during the same period. However, the BBS confidence intervals fall completely or almost completely within the NGC confidence intervals, suggesting that the two surveys are measuring the same trend.

Long-term trend from the National Gamebag Census

Index of bag density from 1901 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Brown hare long-term trend UK

Brown hare bags dropped during a 15-year period following the onset of the Second World War, then recovered temporarily until the mid-1960s. Thereafter bags declined steadily until the 1980s. There has been a slight rise subsequently across the UK as a whole. The series shows how abundant and widespread the species was a century ago compared with now. The decline has been linked to the reduction of agricultural diversity through intensification, together with increased predation pressure as fox numbers rose. The increase phase coincides with the introduction of set-aside and agri-environment schemes that have restored some habitat diversity to farmland.

References and further reading

  • Battersby,J. (2005). UK Mammals: Species Status and Population Trends. Joint Nature Conservation Committee/Tracking Mammals Partnership, Peterborough (JNCC download page).
  • GWCT (2010). Conserving the Brown Hare. Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge (PDF file - 264 KB).
  • Harris,S., Morris,P., Wray,S. & Yalden,D.W. (1995). A Review of British Mammals: Population Estimates and Conservation Status of British Mammals Other than Cetaceans. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough (JNCC download page).
  • Harris,S. & Yalden,D.W. (2008). Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th edition. Mammal Society, Southampton.
  • McBride,A. (1988). Rabbits and Hares. Whittet Books, London.
  • Reynolds,J.C. & Tapper,S.C. (1995). Predation by foxes Vulpes vulpes on brown hares Lepus europaeus in central southern England, and its potential impact on annual population growth. Wildlife Biology 1: 145-158.
  • Tapper,S.C. & Yalden,D.W. (2010). The Brown Hare. 2nd edn. Mammal Society, Southampton.

This report should be cited as: Aebischer,N.J., Davey,P.D. & Kingdon,N.G. (2011). National Gamebag Census: Mammal Trends to 2009. Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge (http://www.gwct.org.uk/ngcmammals).

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