Brown Hares | Protection at last? We’ve been here before…

An article in a leading national newspaper suggests a “New move to ban shooting of hares in breeding season”.

It goes on to say, and we quote:

The nation’s deep affection for the hare, once a common sight in fields, is recorded in prose, pub names and poetry. Writers including Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll and Ted Hughes have paid tribute to the UK’s fastest land mammal, while any English county will boast at least one pub with the word hare in its name. But now a failure to revive numbers after a century of decline from an estimated four million to under 800,000 has triggered moves to protect hares during their breeding season.

Former agriculture minister George Eustice is introducing a private member’s bill that would make it illegal to shoot hares from February to September. “England and Wales are among the few remaining European countries that do not have a modern close season on shooting hares during their breeding season, which is a terrible oversight,” Eustice said.

At long last, the Brown Hare which – because the agriculture and shooting industries demanded it – has always lain somewhat outside the protection of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (it 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) might just be getting some additional limited protection. Both Brown and Mountain Hares are listed as priority species under UK biodiversity action plans, and government attempts to increase the numbers of Brown Hares have been unsuccessful. Scotland introduced a close season for killing either species in 2011. Surely protection is long (long) overdue…

Before we celebrate too hard though, haven’t we been promised this before? Yes, we have. And the above quote is actually from an article in The Guardian dated 5th May 2019. Almost exactly two years ago. Of course, questions about the legal status of Hares weren’t first asked in 2019. Acclaimed naturalist and writer Michael McCarthy asked in The Independent “Must we shoot Britain’s mad March hares all the year round?” That was in March 2013. Almost exactly eight years ago.

The latest article that has found itself splashed across social media was in The Telegraph two days ago. Helena Horton, its author, is usually pro-wildlife, but she opened with a line with a rather precautionary emphasis: “A ban on hare shooting is being proposed by ministers in the latest blow to gamekeepers and farmers“.

Which has always been the issue. A small number of people with undue influence (gamekeeping) and an industry that has tipped the UK into one of the most nature depleted countries in the world (farming) has always got to make life or death decisions about an animal that the rest of us has a ‘deep affection’ for.

Will it be different this time around? Let’s hope so, even though a closed season would not be our preferred option: a full ban would be. But allowing these beautiful animals some respite for much of the year would at least be a step in the right direction…