Tuesday, 26 June 2012

UK hare numbers decline by 80% - Time for a close season

Hare hunting should be banned during breeding season - Urge your MP to sign a motion
June 2012. Hare numbers have declined from around 4 million a century ago to just 750-800,000 hares today.

There are two main reasons for this decline. 

A shift in agricultural practices so hay meadows have been replaced by silage production. Under this system, the meadows are cut more often each year so the leverets (baby hares) get killed by farm machinery more often as they do not have earths to escape to, unlike rabbits.
Although it is illegal to hunt hares with dogs, it isn't illegal to shoot them for sport. Tens of thousands of leverets starve to death each year when their nursing mothers are shot. It is estimated that around 400,000 hares are shot each year for sport, potentially 50% of their total population of 750-800,00.
All other game species have close season
Every other game species in Britain has a close season, and close seasons for hares operate in Northern Ireland, Scotland and much of mainland Europe already. Merely by bringing England into line with the rest, the hare population would have some breathing space and would almost certainly rebound. Hares were part of a Government species action plan in 1995 that aimed to double their numbers by 2010; this target was not met.
Research has shown that by February each year 65 percent of sampled female hares were pregnant, and by the end of the month 50 percent had given birth to their first litter of the year and were lactating. A survey in Scotland showed that in February 47 percent of female brown hares that were shot were pregnant; in September, it was 44 percent. It is estimated that at least 390,000 hares are shot in Britain each year, with hare shoots commonly organised in February & March (peak breeding season).
The same 2004 report for DEFRA stated "It could be argued that the introduction of a close season might be beneficial in terms of animal welfare through a reduction in culling of lactating females with dependent offspring."

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