BOOK REVIEW: THE BROWN HARE
The Mammal Society has recently published "The Brown Hare" by Stephen Tapper and Derek Yalden in its species monograph series. It is a booklet of 28 pages with 10 rather small colour photographs, 12 black and white figures and 3 Tables.
Within this short compass it gives useful information on identifying our native brown hare Lepus europaeus, its history in the British Isles and its distribution. At the end of the last glaciation, about 15,000 years or so ago hares had been driven south to the Mediterranean and further east. The brown hare had been driven into a small area around the Black Sea. In the isolation of Corsica the Brown Hare developed into a separate species Lepus corsicanus whilst in the Iberian Peninsula the Iberian Hare, Lepus granatensis, evolved. Hares moved northwards across Europe with the spread of farming techniques and the consequent felling of forests and increase in open areas of grassland and cereal growing to reach Britain some time before the Roman invasion. It is unlikely they arrived whilst there was still a land bridge in place of the Channel as this was formed about 6,000 B.C. and farming did not reach Britain until about 3,500 B.C. Before then, there was very little suitable habitat for hares in Britain.
The authors note, with concern, the steady decline in brown hare numbers in Britain since 1960 after a resurgence in numbers immediately after the myxomatosis epidemic of 1953-55, which had such a dramatic impact on rabbit numbers. This greatly reduced grazing pressure on grasslands throughout the country and the resultant longer grasses gave hares better cover and more abundant food.
The booklet has useful sections on the reproductive performance and mortality due to disease and predators together with the effects of hunting, coursing, shooting and poaching by man. It is the combined effects of all these factors which control our hare populations.
Altogether this is a useful small booklet with up-to-date information for those interested in Hares. It is available from the Mammal Society (www.mammal.org.uk) priced £3.50 plus postage.