Scotland is home to two species of hare; the native mountain hare and the brown hare, which was introduced during the Iron Age!
Hares are often mistaken for rabbits but they are larger with longer ears and legs.
The mountain hare’s greyish-brown summer coat is replaced by white fur in the winter. This helps them blend in with the snow to evade predators.
Brown hares are the larger of the two species. Their reddish-brown coat and long, powerful hind legs help them avoid predators. They have a black and white tail and distinctive black-tipped ears.
Where do hares live?
Unlike rabbits, hares don’t burrow underground to create warrens but instead live above ground, seeking shelter in long grass or hedges.
The brown hare is widespread across most of mainland Scotland and is commonly found in arable areas where they can be seen bounding quickly through fields.
The further north you travel, the more likely you are to see mountain hares who typically live 300-400m above sea level. Mountain hares typically live in woodlands, however, they primarily live in heather moorlands.
What do hares eat?
Hares are herbivorous, meaning they feed on plants, and their diet will depend on their habitat. Mountain hares tend to eat heather, grasses and sedge whereas brown hares tend to eat a range of grasses and other vegetation, including cereal crops.
When are baby hares born?
The mountain hare breeding season usually starts at the end of January. Mother hares are pregnant for around 50 days. They can give birth to between one and four litters from March to July, typically with one to three young, known as leverets, in each litter.
Brown hares breed between February and September and a female can rear three or four litters a year, each of two to four young.
Several bucks (males) will pursue a single doe (female).
She will fight off any unwelcome mates by ‘boxing’ them.
Unlike rabbits, leverets, are born fully furred with their eyes open and are fully mobile. Mother hares spread their young out over an area, leaving them in shallow dips in the ground, known as forms, for protection.
During the first four weeks of their lives, the mother hare feeds them once a day at dusk to avoid being noticed by predators. Other than this, they receive no parental care and must learn to fend for themselves. Baby hares are born with incredible survival instincts and ‘freeze’ when they sense danger. They also have no scent and are well camouflaged making them nearly impossible for predators to detect.
Hares are under constant threat from predators such as birds of prey and foxes. Their long, powerful hind legs allow them to run at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour to help them escape from would-be predators.
Hunting and pest control
It is not illegal to use lethal means of control against brown hares during the open season, but they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in the closed season (1 February - 30 September). It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a brown hare during the closed season without a licence.
Mountain hare are included on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, giving them full protection. Therefore, anyone who intentionally or recklessly kills, injures or takes mountain hare without a licence, at any time of year, will be acting unlawfully.
If you’re planning any activities which could affect hares, you must make sure you stay within the law.
During the closed season, all methods of lethal control must be undertaken by a licenced individual and can only be carried out for specific purposes, including:
- to prevent serious damage to crops, land or property.
- social, economic or environmental purposes.
A license is not required during open season.
Individuals must be able to provide clear justification and evidence why control is necessary, and what alternative methods of preventative action have already been undertaken.
Leverets mistaken for abandoned baby rabbits
Many of the baby hares (leverets) we look after at our National Wildlife Rescue Centre do not need to be there in the first place. They are often mistaken for helpless baby rabbits and are taken from the wild when they don’t have to be.
Leverets are born fully furred with open eyes and are capable of movement from birth. They live above ground and will be left in long grass or sheltered areas for protection by their mothers. Unless they are clearly sick, injured or in danger, baby hares should be left alone. As a prey species, hares have strong survival instincts from birth and the presence of a human could startle them, causing them to run into the path of a waiting predator.
Hares face a host of challenges from both nature and human activity. If you can see signs of injury such as open wounds, damaged limbs or a live hare that has been hit by a vehicle, please contact our helpline on 03000 999 999.