Friday 15 February 2019

Deadly rabbit virus threatens UK brown hare population

Cases confirmed in Dorset and Essex with public urged to report sick or dead animals
Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Fri 25 Jan 2019 06.30 GMTLast modified on Wed 30 Jan 2019 12.32 GMT
The first cases of rabbit virus have been confirmed in hares in the UK, highlighting a major new threat to the UK’s rapidly dwindling brown hare population.
Two cases of the deadly rabbit haemorrhagic disease type 2 have been confirmed in Dorset and one in Essex, so it may already be taking hold in the wild, but more testing will be needed to determine its spread.
Hare numbers have plunged by about 80% in recent decades, largely as a result of changing farming practices and more intensive agriculture, which has affected their food supply and habitat. Any further threat from disease would strike another blow at what was once a common fixture of the countryside – hunted by some and harried by farmers, but much-loved and with a special place in British folklore, from the mad March hare to the nut-brown hare of the bestselling children’s book Guess How Much I Love You.
Mountain hares are native to the UK, and are now largely restricted to Scotland, but brown hares were, like rabbits, introduced and are estimated to number about 800,000.
Suspicions that the virus, which causes lung haemorrhaging and hepatitis, may have jumped to the hare population were raised in September, when sightings of sick and dying hares were first reported. The rabbit virus is known to have made the leap to European brown hares in countries such as Italy, France, Spain and Australia.

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