Very long black-tipped ears; large, long, powerful hind legs. Much redder than the mountain hare, and with a black-topped tail. Yellow flecking to the fur, more so than grey-brown rabbits. Larger than rabbits.
Tender grass shoots, including cereal crops, are their main foods.
Brown hares were introduced in Iron Age times, from the other side of the North Sea. They are widespread on low ground throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Although they have been more recently introduced to Northern Ireland, they have not spread far. They have also been introduced to the Isle of Man and Mainland Orkney. In Scotland brown hares are found on farmland and rough grazing to the far north of the mainland, but are absent from parts of the North West. Brown hares are replaced by mountain hares in upland areas of Scotland and central England.
Brown hares live in very exposed habitats, and they rely on acute senses and running at speeds of up to 70kph (45mph) to evade predators. Hares do not use burrows, but make a small depression in the ground among long grass – this is known as a form. They spend most of the day on or near the form, moving out to feed in the open at night. Though generally solitary, hares sometimes band into loose groups when feeding.
Brown hares have little legal protection, as they are game animals managed by farmers and landowners. Numbers declined substantially since the beginning of this century, though they are still common animals in many parts of the country. Today’s modern farms are intensive and specialised, either growing crops like wheat and oilseed rape, or raising livestock for meat and dairy produce. A hundred years ago most farms were mixed enterprises, with a patchwork quilt of fields which provide year-round grazing for hares as well as long crops for them to hide in. Modern cereal farms provide little or no food for hares in late summer and autumn, and livestock farms have few crops for them the hide in. Modern farm machinery and pesticides also kill many hares.
Another reason is that there now appears to be many more foxes in the countryside than there were a hundred years ago. Hare shooting still occurs in areas where hares are common and where farms want to reduce crop damage. Hare hunting with beagles and harriers used to occur throughout Britain, and hare coursing events were run by several coursing clubs, but these are now illegal (since Hunting Act 2002) in the UK; hare coursing, though controlled, is still legal in Ireland. Hares are very often poached, particularly with lurchers cross-bred from collies and greyhounds.