Wight Conservation - The Brown Hare
Although not a protected species, the Brown Hare is short listed in the UK and local Biodiversity Action Plans for Conservation.
Hares are to be found in most areas at Wroxall Manor Farm, in the fields and in Wroxall Copse. They are also present in Rowlands Wood and on Idlecombe Down. We have never seen them on Mottistone Down or Mottistone Common, although both offer suitable habitat. It may be more than coincidence that the areas are subject to heavy public access with dogs, - legal or trespassing.
Abundance varies greatly according to the available habitat and the geographical location. We are not aware of any formal hare counts on the Island. Of our properties, Wroxall has the best population and we suspect the density is around 10-12 per sq km. Few areas in the UK can compare with East Anglia where densities of 130 plus per sq km are known.
At Wroxall, agricultural management is designed to minimise disturbance or harm to the hares. If we cut the grass too short not only would we destroy habitats but could easily kill any tardy hare or small leverets. We have no silage, but hay-making for our cattle is a necessity. Some habitat damage is consequently unavoidable. Topping, also an occasional necessity for field management, is carried out with the topper set as high as possible to reduce habitat damage. Our Ancient Woodland, providing shelter, warmth and food for hares, are left largely undisturbed when not being worked in.
A specialist weed-wiper is used to kill injurious weeds, thus avoiding damage by blanket spraying. We are fortunate that our largest neighbour, the National Trust, uses no spray on its adjoining land at Wroxall. Consequently there is no spray drift over our boundaries. At Idlecombe Down, we maintain a high, wide and thick hedge between ourselves and the neighbouring arable farm in the hope that it will filter out any toxic chemical vapour drifts.
The biggest causes of hare mortality are disease, especially liver fluke, damp and dank autumns, and fox predation - foxes are a major hazard for leverets. Public access, especially walkers with loose dogs, causes unnecessary disturbance and eventually will drive away the hares. This is an increasing danger, especially because since the CRoW Act, many people believe they have the right to roam anywhere, regardless of whether access is open or not, and regardless of the impact upon wildlife.