Hares have reddish, golden brown fur, a pale belly, amber eyes and long, black-tipped ears. Their legs and ears are longer than those of a rabbit. Their tail is black on top and white underneath, and is tucked down when in flight. Adult hares measure approximately 52-59cm in length and weigh around 3-4kg. Native to Europe and central Asia, the brown hare was introduced to the UK either during the Iron Age or early Roman occupation and is considered naturalised.
Hares prefer open habitats such as arable fields and grasslands, particularly where nearby cover is available in the form of grassy margins, hedgerows or woodland fringes. The species may also be found in deciduous woodland, moors, dunes, and occasionally in urban parks and cemeteries, but is rarely present in conifer forests. They are herbivorous and feed predominantly on grasses and herbs, but may also consume cereal crops, tree bark, buds and leaves.
Hares are generally solitary and nocturnal. Unlike rabbits, they do not use burrows, instead make shallow scrapes in the earth or vegetation known as ‘forms’, where they rest for most of the day to digest the previous day’s forage. They rely on their acute senses, camouflage and speed to evade predators, and can reach speeds of over 70kph.
Hares are often seen in daytime during the spring, when they aggregate to breed. Several males generally chase a single female, resulting in spectacular ‘boxing’ displays as the female tries to fend off unwanted advances. Females (jills) produce three to four litters of two to four young (leverets) a year. Young hares are born with fur and eyes open. They are suckled once a day in the evening and are weaned at around four weeks. Females are sexually mature at around seven to eight months and males (jacks) at around six months. Their main threats are habitat loss due to intensification of agricultural practices, loss of hedgerows and predation of leverets, especially by foxes. Hunting and coursing also pose a threat in some areas.
Once widespread across most of the UK, numbers have declined significantly in recent decades. Hares are listed as a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. While more common in the east of England than in the west, hares can be found across Somerset, particularly on Somerset Levels and in the Mendips. They are most commonly seen on open farmland or grassland, particularly at dusk or dawn.