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CALL FOR ACTION: BROWN HARES

Members may already be aware of the serious threat facing the European Brown Hare. SACS has spoken with Gamekeeper Jonathan Davis, who is assisting Dr Diana Bell of the University of East Anglia. Jonathan told us:

CALL FOR ACTION: BROWN HARES

"The European Brown Hare is in desperate trouble. Unexplained sudden deaths have been reported the length and breadth of the UK and they have presented a range of symptoms; however, most are displaying typical symptoms we would expect to see from Myxomatosis in rabbits: eye, ear and mouth lesions, swollen, bulbous eyes, loss of weight and condition. There have been sudden declines in localised populations, and many in apparent fully-grown hares.

Simply put, it could be the Myxoma virus and this is looking more and more likely with every specimen, although some with EBHS symptoms have also been seen. What we do know is that deaths have been reported across the UK.

Because of the dramatic decline in rabbit populations in the UK this year by Myxoma and RHD1 & 2, hares that have died have been very quickly scavenged, meaning useful specimens have been difficult to find. For instance, a farmer reported a very sick hare this week at 10am. In the 20 minutes it took him to return with gloves and bags, it had died and been scavenged.

More information on the disease and its cause will be presented in due course, but in the meantime we would renew our appeal to Gamekeepers, Farmers and Land Workers, dog walkers, beaters or anyone out in the fields to be vigilant and act quickly. If you see a hare that you think is diseased, take a photo/video, call me or WhatsApp the images to me on 07872 149147 or email Dr Diana Bell on d.bell@uea.ac.uk.

We can then assess and recover the body if needed. Please wear gloves and double-bag, then freeze. If you can help by tagging the bag with date, time and location that would be very helpful.

If you have noticed a decline in your local hare population since the summer, please send us a percentage estimate of the decline and your location."

In addition, as conservationists, those of us who carry out management of hares should consider restraint while the cause of the horrific population decline is being investigated, particularly in areas where hare densities were low already, or are now low. Dr Bell has stated that we are in "uncharted waters". Also, be aware of biosecurity and the potential of boots and tyres to spread disease. With our hares under considerable pressure from habitat change as well as disease, we must continue to do all we can to help them survive.