Irish hares fall foul of modern farming trap

Jun 29, 2010

Research from Queen's University Belfast has revealed the 20th century decline in the Irish hare population is almost certainly associated with changes in farming practices.

The Stormont Assembly voted to ban hare coursing in Northern Ireland last Tuesday (22nd June), but a recent study, funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and published in the international journal , suggests hares may join the ranks of other farmland species, such as the Corncrake, unless more is done to protect its habitat.

The research team, led by Dr Neil Reid, Quercus Centre Manager in Queen's School of Biological Sciences, has shown that hares require an intricate patchwork quilt of good quality grassland for feeding, and tall uneven vegetation, such as rushes, for hiding and sleeping.

Dr Reid explained: "Hares may mistake the tall grass of silage fields as a good spot for lying-up and giving birth. Silage is harvested during the peak period when leverets are born in late spring and early summer and the machinery used may trap and kill young hares, driving local population declines year after year. Hares have fallen foul of an ecological trap."

The researchers tagged a population of hares in South Armagh with radio-transmitters, allowing them to track their every move. They followed the animals day and night for an entire year to see how they changed their habitat preferences. The researchers found that during late spring and early summer they increased their use of long grass destined to be cut for silage.

Dr Reid said: "On a day-to-day basis, hares are remarkably boring creatures to follow. They don't move far and during the daytime they do very little. This is rather worrying, however, if they settle in unsuitable habitat that may present life threatening risks at a certain time of year. We may have forty shades of green in Ireland but we have created what amounts to a desert of grass. Variety is the spice of life. Wildlife can't survive in a pristinely manicured landscape of only one habitat."

Dr Reid added: "Fields are frequently mowed from the edge to the centre for convenience but it surely can't be that difficult to do it the other way around? Adopting 'hare-friendly' mowing regimes, similar to those adopted to minimise the impact of harvesting on ground nesting birds, may help mitigate the effects. Unfortunately, leverets tend not to run so it may not work, but it's worth testing."

The new Northern Ireland Countryside Management Schemes (NICMS), implemented by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), now includes a specific measure to target the Irish hare called the 'delayed cutting and grazing' option. Farmers who sign up will receive hectarage payments for postponing the cutting of silage until after the 1st July and for maintaining rushy field margins.

Explore further: 'Tiger heavyweight' Nepal hosts anti-poaching summit

Provided by Queen's University Belfast

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Key to evolutionary fitness: Cut the calories

Jul 01, 2009

Charles Darwin and his contemporaries postulated that food consumption in birds and mammals was limited by resource levels, that is, animals would eat as much as they could while food was plentiful and produce as many offspring ...

Climate change and species distributions

Aug 04, 2008

Scientists have long pointed to physical changes in the Earth and its atmosphere, such as melting polar ice caps, sea level rise and violent storms, as indicators of global climate change. But changes in climate can wreak ...

Use of paramilitary emblems 'flagging' in Northern Ireland

Jun 14, 2010

New research from Queen's University Belfast shows the number of paramilitary flags now flown on arterial routes in Northern Ireland during July has more than halved. The figure is down from 161 flags in 2006 to 73 in 2009. ...

Recommended for you

'Tiger heavyweight' Nepal hosts anti-poaching summit

4 hours ago

Nepal's success in turning tiger-fearing villagers into their protectors has seen none of the endangered cats killed for almost three years, offering key lessons for an anti-poaching summit opening in Kathmandu ...

GMO mosquito plan sparks outcry in Florida

Jan 31, 2015

A British company's plan to unleash hordes of genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida to reduce the threat of dengue fever and other diseases has sparked an outcry from fearful residents.

Population genomics unveil seahorse domain

Jan 30, 2015

In a finding vital to effective species management, a team including City College of New York biologists has determined that the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) is more a permanent resident of the we ...

Researchers develop new potato cultivar

Jan 30, 2015

Dakota Ruby is the name of a new potato cultivar developed by the NDSU potato breeding project and released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. Dakota Ruby has bright red skin, stores well and is intended ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.