Sussex Wildlife Trust: Brown Hares - March Madness

March 1st, 2018
I once had a girlfriend in the big city and found myself attending swanky dinner parties around East London. During one such soiree a guest, desperate to impress, boasted that for next week’s meal he would be cooking a hare. I was outraged and I asked if anyone at the table had actually seen a hare in the wild.  My question was met with blank stares. I’d like to think that I then launched into an impassioned rant about the untamed magnificence of the hare and society’s disconnection with nature before heroically storming out. In reality there was cheesecake for dessert so I wearily sighed and quietly finished the main course. But I knew two things; hares don’t belong at Shoreditch dinner parties and neither did I; I never returned. I still maintain that if you’ve witnessed the reckless energy of a hare cavorting in a Sussex sunrise then the very idea of eating one is, well, madness.
While the fields are still bare March is the best time to observe hares. On paper a hare could easily be dismissed as a big rabbit but they’re different beasts altogether; it’s all in the way they move. A hare possesses powerful hind legs; a pair of pistons that can send them rocketing towards the horizon at over 40mph.

Hares are mostly nocturnal. They don’t burrow underground like rabbits but instead spend their days hidden in a shallow scrape (a form). Young hares (leverets) are born in separate forms and attentive mother hares return to secretly suckle them undercover of dusk.
In spring amorous male hares approach females in the hope of finding a mate but chatting up a hare is a risky business. Potential sexual partners can suddenly transform into sparring partners when uninterested female hares rise up and strike a blow for equality by punching the males in the face. The frenzied ‘boxing matches’ that ensue are such a striking spectacle that they have given us the phrase ‘as mad as a March hare’. 

Yet who are we to be questioning the hare’s mental stability? Us level-headed humans used to believe that sprinting hares can start fires; eating hare brains made you sleep better and witches could transform into hares and only be killed with silver bullets. Hares have been closely associated with Pagan springtime fertility rituals and the goddess Eostre and they still play a role in our Easter celebrations (albeit watered down, chocolate covered and transformed into the Easter Bunny). Their prominence in the English countryside has also diminished. Numbers have declined due to changes in farming practices, especially the removal of hedgerows.  It’s been a long, cold winter. As spring returns the Sussex countryside will be exploding in a crazy celebration of life. Get out there, find yourself a hare and experience the madness.

Sussex Wildlife Trust is an independent charity caring for wildlife and habitats throughout Sussex.  Founded in 1961, we have worked with local people for over half a century to make Sussex richer in wildlife.  

We rely on the support of our members to help protect our rich natural heritage.  Please consider supporting our work.  As a member you will be invited to join Michael Blencowe on our regular wildlife walks and also enjoy free events, discounts on wildlife courses, Wildlife magazine and our Sussex guide book, Discovering Wildlife.  It’s easy to join online at: or over the phone on 01273 497532.

By Michael Blencowe
Learning & Engagement Officer, Sussex Wildlife Trust

Photograph credit: hare©Hugh Clark FRPS_Sussex Wildlife Trust

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