The madness of March hares - UK - News - The Independent

The madness of March hares

Any day now, with luck, you may see mad March hares performing their rituals in the middle of a field. When the mating urge comes over them, they caper and cavort as if the ground were red hot, and sometimes they sit upright to box with their forefeet. Oddly enough, the ones that go in for such fisticuffs are not aggressive males, fancying themselves miniature Tysons, but females giving over-enthusiastic suitors the brush- off.

Nowhere in England is there a better chance of seeing hares than on the Game Conservancy Council's experimental farm at Loddington in Leicestershire. At a time when many surveys are reporting a decline in hare numbers, the population at Loddington has grown at an astonishing rate.

When the Game Conservancy took over in 1991, a count revealed only seven hares on 600-odd acres. With the introduction of efficient predator-control, and a greater diversity of farm crops, numbers built up rapidly to nearly 100 in 1994 - a total which Game Conservancy scientists considered remarkable. Imagine their astonishment when a census in 1995 showed 195 hares present.

There is no doubt about the causes of this spectacular revival. One is the fact that in spring and early summer the resident gamekeeper, Malcolm Brockless, clears his ground of predators. Whereas on other estates most leverets are killed by foxes and stoats, the absence of natural enemies at Loddington enables a high proportion to survive.

The second favourable factor is the agricultural regime. Experiment has shown that hares prefer to feed on, and live in, vegetation no more than eight or 10 inches tall. On most arable farms, with large fields of wheat or barley, the crops soon grow above that height, leaving them with nothing to eat.

At Loddington the farming is planned so that a greater range of crops and cover is available all year round. Some corn is sown in winter, some in the spring, as well as linseed and beans; there are also numerous set- aside strips, planted with mixtures of grass, rape, and kale. The result is a patchwork, as agreeable to the human eye as it is to hares and game- birds.

Game Conservancy researchers readily admit that the tremendous resurgence has taken them by surprise. They do not yet know what level of population the farm will safely sustain, and they fear that with so many hares on the ground there may be an outbreak of disease such as coccidiosis, a virulent form of diarrhoea, or pseudo-tuberculosis, a bacterial infection which can quickly kill mature animals in spring.

As a precaution, last year they shot 45 hares and sent 18 alive to the Ministry of Defence gunnery ranges at Castlemartin, in Pembrokeshire, where the Commandant, Lt Col Michael Portman, is making a bold attempt to re-colonise 6,000 acres of grassland.

A keen beagler, Colonel Portman saw from old records that hares once flourished in Pembrokeshire: the game-books of the Cawdor Estate, which used to own some of the land, show that in the 1880s it was not unusual to shoot 800 a year. When he arrived at Castlemartin in 1991 there was not a single hare to be seen, but the ranges were full of other wild life, including buzzards, barn owls and choughs (similar to jackdaws).

Being untouched by chemicals, and rarely visited by humans, the grassland seemed ideal for hares. Colonel Portman therefore set about importing some, not only from Loddington, but also from other areas. A batch from the ammunition depot at Kineton, in Warwickshire, arrived "with WD arrows on their bottoms". Meanwhile, he has done all he can to make the environment more attractive, putting in root crops, planting new woodland and culling local foxes.

It is too early to say whether his enterprise will succeed. One snag is that in winter the ranges are grazed down to the texture of a golf course by sheep brought off the Presceli mountains, so that food and cover diminish. Meanwhile, at Loddington, the Game Conservancy's neighbours have accused them of luring all the hares in Leicestershire on to their land. The opposite is manifestly true: that surplus animals are moving out into neighbouring territories - a fact which will no doubt be confirmed when radio-tracking experiments start this autumn.

Suggested Topics
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week