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Running as fast as 40 miles per hour and zig-zagging to evade predators such as foxes and dogs, it can be a dramatic experience to see a Brown Hare being chased. Usually, they keep still and feed mainly at night, being nocturnal animals. It is easiest to spot them during the breeding season when they are more active during the day and sometimes rise up tall on their hind legs to ‘box’. Hares used to be much more common across the country and one of the threats to population numbers along The Ridgeway and elsewhere is illegal hunting with dogs, known as hare coursing. Read on below….

Banner image: Brown Hare. Credit: Caroline Legg, Wikicommons

The Brown Hare is larger than the Rabbit, with longer legs and longer ears with distinctive black tips (see image gallery above). They graze on vegetation and the bark of young trees or shrubs and need a constant food supply throughout the year because they do not hibernate or store appreciable amounts of fat in their bodies. A mosaic of arable fields, grassland and hedgerows is ideal and this makes Hares one of the key wildlife species associated with sustainable farming.

Breeding starts in December and each year they can have up to four litters of 2 to 4 young known as ‘leverets’. Unlike Rabbits, leverets are not born in burrows, but in a shallow depression made by the adults which is called a ‘form’. The young are left to fend for themselves, with the mother returning to her young after sunset to let them suckle for a few minutes. Young hares are vulnerable to predators such as foxes but they are adapted to being in an exposed position as they are born fully furred and with their eyes open, unlike Rabbits. Adults return to the same location to breed, although they are not territorial and will congregate. This BBC podcast shares further observations from an expert in Hertfordshire, including a description of ‘Hare circles’.

‘Hare circles’ are one of the Hare’s many behaviours which have attracted people’s attention and, over the centuries, led to the development of folklore, myth and religion featuring the Hare. Pagans see the Hare as a symbol of fertility and a link to the Otherworld, whilst shapeshifting witches appear in folklore as Hares.

Declining population numbers across the British countryside have made the Hare even more elusive and this makes The Ridgeway fortunate as a home for Hares. Intensification and mechanisation of agriculture has been detrimental, but farmers are now encouraged to carry out conservation measures to provide suitable field margins, spring sown crops and diverse hedgerow habitat. Farmers and gamekeepers are also working with police to reduce hare coursing along the Trail and elsewhere following a strengthening of the law in 2022, as this video shows. Ridgeway visitors can help Hares by reporting suspicious activity to the police and keeping dogs under control so that they don’t disturb wildlife.

This all means you can count yourself lucky to see a Hare and The Ridgeway is a good place to start looking…..good luck!

Notes: More information about paganism and farmland birds along The Ridgeway is available in other Top 50 entries.

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