The shock of the occasional exotic apart — llamas and ostriches in Cumbria come to Malcolm’s mind — the joy of the British countryside is the conventional, the normal. Perhaps a roadside badger in North Yorkshire or beaver kits in Argyll don’t come along every day, but hares happily and commonly do. Though perhaps not for long.
Even when they don’t Malcolm is happy to take time out to watch the BBC videos of their hare-y activities. Sitting, standing upright, looking you in the eye and twitching, there is a charming anthropomorphism to hares.
Most of the hares we see, and all of them in lowland England are going to be the common brown hare. It is generally held that the brown hare was introduced into Britain by the Romans; and — thanks to the loss of hay meadows and of hedge-rows— is rapidly heading towards being a rarity. Indeed, the species may have reached extinction in parts, particularly the South-West.
Up north, and on higher ground, the mountain hare is more likely to be seen. Mountain hares are small, neater than the brown hare, and seem to be an indigenous species — which means they got here before the land bridge to the continent was drowned. Like the brown hare the mountain hare seems to be becoming far less common. Again, changes in land-use seem to be to blame — over-grazing reduces the natural heather and ground cover.
Gamekeepers, intent on protecting their land-owners’ grouse moors, cause enormous attrition among mountain hares — which apparently carry a tick which kills grouse chicks. Although snares are now illegal, shooting is a “sport”: a group of Italian “sportsmen” is alleged to have arrived in Scotland with a refrigerated truck. Their aim was to slaughter a thousand Scottish mountain hares, ship them back to Italy for sale as meat, and that way off-set the cost of their trip. Ironically, sports shooting was one reason why mountain hares thrived in Scotland: the land-owner had a vested interest in maintaining numbers to provide “sport”. The decline in numbers in recent years has been sufficiently significant for Scottish Natural heritage to have commissioned a detailed (and inconclusive) report.
The Irish hare (and its rare sub-species, the golden hare of Rathlin Island) have already been noted in Malcolm’s ramblings.
Tom McDonnell voice is pure Ulster; but his portrait of the blue-eyed golden hare is something extraordinary.