A distant blur or long, brown twitching ears just above the grass are probably the first things you’ll see if you’re looking for hares. We tend to think of hares being mad in March but an added bonus at this time of year is the possibility of seeing young hares, known as leverets.
Like rabbits, hares start to breed from a young age, and from about seven months they produce an average of 12 leverets a year in three litters. This is important as their lifespan is short – not usually more than two years – so they have to make hay (or babies) while the sun shines! The breeding season runs from January to October, but May is a good time to look out for the young leverets as food becomes more abundant. They are born with their eyes open and are left alone in the day, in small depressions in the ground, known as forms, to avoid attracting predators.
The young hares begin to feed on grass from two weeks old and are fully weaned at four weeks.
Hares were once a more common sight in the UK, but numbers have fallen since the 1960s across Europe due to changes in agricultural practices and climate, and predation. There were an estimated one million hares in the UK in the early 1990s, but unfortunately there are currently no accurate up-to-date figures on the UK hare population.
Recent studies suggest that numbers are increasing due to the wildlife-friendly schemes that have been introduced on many farms, such as wider field margins in arable fields and delayed grass cutting. However, when they feel threatened, leverets tend to sit tight, making them vulnerable to farm machinery as it passes over.