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Species Action Plan - Feedback invited
31 March 2005

Members of the public are being invited to make comments on a draft version of the Species Action Plan for the Irish Hare. The deadline for submissions is April 8th.

The action plan is published through a partnership between the National Parks and Wildlife Service (Dublin) and the Environment and Heritage Service (Belfast) and is expected to be finalised later on in the year.

The full text of the draft can be viewed below or by clicking on this link:
All-Ireland Species Action Plan for the Irish Hare
( Adobe Acrobat pdf file)

Those wishing to provide feedback are asked to contact the NPWS before Friday, April 8th, 2005.

Contact Details:

Jamie Mulleady
NPWS Species Protection Unit
7 Ely Place
Dublin 2

All-Ireland Species Action Plan

All-Ireland Species Action Plan

Irish Hare
Lepus timidus hibernicus

February 2005

All-Ireland Species Action Plan
Irish Hare
(Lepus timidus hibernicus)

1. Current status

1.1 The Irish hare is considered to be a sub-species of Lepus timidus (L.) and is endemic to Ireland. It is found in many different habitats including unimproved, semi-improved and improved grassland, upland habitats such as heather-dominated heaths and bogs and in coastal habitats including sand-dunes and even on the sea shore. They also tend to occur on modified grassland habitats such as golf courses and airfields (Dingerkus, 1997, Dingerkus & Montgomery, 1997)

1.2 Historically, the Irish hare was widespread and common throughout Ireland, though populations are thought to have undergone a substantial decline in the last 15-25 years. Estimates indicate that the present Northern Ireland population may be as low as 8250 (Dingerkus, 1997). Population levels may have fallen to critical levels in some areas. In the Republic, anecdotal evidence supports the impression of a decline in Irish hare populations. However, given the lack of a comprehensive survey, it is impossible to say if the level of decline in the Republic mirrors that in the North.

1.3 There are believed to be small populations of the brown hare Lepus europaeus (L.) in the northern half of Ireland, having been widely introduced throughout Ireland in the nineteenth century. This species is known to have declined throughout Europe and is the subject of a UK Species Action Plan in Great Britain. However, due to its recent introduction to Ireland, it is not regarded as a species of particular conservation importance. The impacts of brown hare populations, if any, on the endemic Irish hare are unknown.

1.4 The Irish hare is a quarry species and only enjoys limited protection under domestic legislation. In January 2004, following public consultation, the Northern Ireland Environment Minister introduced a 12 month ban on the taking, selling or killing of Irish hares under the Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928. Lepus timidus is listed under Annex V (a) of the EU Directive 92/43/EEC (Habitats Directive). This Annex lists animal and plant species of Community interest whose taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management measures.

1.5 In the Irish Red Data book the Irish hare is listed as internationally important (Whilde, 1993).

2. Current factors causing loss or decline

Threats to this species are generally poorly understood, but the following factors are thought to have a negative effect on hare populations (in no particular order).

2.1 Loss of refuge areas for daytime lie-up sites, particularly rushes and good quality hedgerows (Dingerkus, 1997, Tapper & Barnes, 1986)

2.2 Habitat change and changes in farming practice, such as conversion of species-rich grassland to ryegrass (Lolium spp.) and clover mixes (Dingerkus, 1997), the switch from spring to winter cereals and the change from hay to silage making.

2.3 Habitat fragmentation (Dingerkus, 1997)

2.4 Increased levels of disturbance due mainly to high livestock stocking densities on farms, increased use of farm machinery, peat cutting machines and disturbance by cats and dogs (Dingerkus, 1997, Pielowski, 1976).

2.5 Increased mortality resulting from highly efficient mechanised harvesting of agricultural crops. (Dingerkus, 1997).

2.6 Increased levels of predation on leverets by foxes, crows and magpies (Dingerkus, 1997).

2.7 Illegal taking of hares (Dingerkus, 1997).

2.8 Unsustainable taking of hares for sporting purposes.

2.9 Direct grazing competition with sheep in upland areas.

3. Current action

3.1 A survey was carried out from 1994 to 1997 by The Queen's University of Belfast, which examined the distribution of the Irish hare in Northern Ireland, as well as some aspects of the ecology of the species. The results indicated that the Irish hare is widely distributed especially in areas with semi-natural grassland, heath or bog, although at generally low densities (about 1 per square kilometre) and there was evidence of a reduction in both population and range.

3.2 Research carried out at University College Dublin on the genetics of the species in Ireland has been followed up by ongoing research at Queen's University of Belfast. This is providing useful information on population structure of the Irish hare as well as indicating the relationship between the Irish hare and other Lepus taxa.

3.3 A PhD study into the ecology and conservation of the Irish hare and the species' response to agricultural change was commissioned by EHS in 2003.

3.3 Research is being carried at Aberdeen University into aspects of the Scottish mountain hare Lepus timidus scoticus, and at Uppsala University, Sweden on the genetics of both Lepus timidus and Lepus europaeus ( Pielowski, 1976). Genetic research in Iberia has shed light on post ice-age dispersal of Lepus timidus through the region (Thulin et al., 1997).

3.4 Various aspects of brown hare ecology are being studied at Bristol University and at the Game Conservancy Trust as well as in several centres in mainland Europe.

3.5 Voluntary agri-environment schemes, such as the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) in the Republic of Ireland, and the Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) and Countryside Management (CMS) Schemes in Northern Ireland, are believed to be making an important contribution to the maintenance and enhancement of suitable hare habitat. While there has been some decline in participation in the REPS scheme, over 45,000 farmers in the Republic of Ireland are signed up. In Northern Ireland, 7,000 farms are participating in agri-environment schemes.

3.6 Closed (or park) hare coursing has undergone significant changes in terms of regulation and compliance. Hare mortality appears to have fallen as dogs are now muzzled, and hares are normally returned to the area of capture; in Northern Ireland, licences stipulate that hares must be returned to their place of capture. There are 92 registered coursing clubs in the Republic of Ireland and two in Northern Ireland, all affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club. Radio tracking of hares released following coursing in Northern Ireland has provided some information on the dispersal and longevity of hares after release.

3.7 A statutory hare Reserve was established on the North Slob in Co. Wexford in 1989.

3.8 A conference and a research seminar were held in autumn 2003, focusing on the Irish hare and sharing up to date research into both Irish and brown hares.

4. Action plan targets

4.1 Maintain the existing range of Irish hares in Ireland.

4.2 Demonstrate a population increase by 2010.

4.2 Maintain and increase the area and quality of suitable hare habitat.

5. Proposed action with lead agencies

The provision of refuge areas, adequate and varied food supply and freedom from disturbance are essential if Irish hare numbers are to be maintained at present levels. If hare numbers are to be increased then habitat improvements must also be a priority. Further research is required in order to improve the current understanding of threats to hares and habitat use by hares. Monitoring is also required to determine whether numbers are still declining or if the population is rising to meet the above targets.

A range of Government Departments are likely to be involved in the delivery of this action plan. The principal drivers will be Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) in Northern Ireland and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in the Republic of Ireland. Both Agriculture Departments (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland and Department of Agriculture and Food (DAF) in the Republic of Ireland) have a role to play in terms of managing the farmed countryside especially through agri-environment schemes. Other Departments and Agencies will have differing roles, such as provision of grant-aid for research projects, sensitive management of state-owned land and development of policy towards species protection.

5.1 Policy and legislation

5.1.1 Take account of the requirements of Irish hares when reviewing or developing agri- environment schemes and environmental cross-compliance measures linked to agricultural subsidies. Particular consideration should be given to reducing stocking levels, varying sward composition and encouraging good hedgerow management.

5.1.2 Consider the requirements of the Irish hare in the implementation of agri-environment and environmental cross-compliance programmes.
(ACTION: DARD, DAF, Teagasc)

5.1.3 Review and if necessary, increase the level of protection given to the Irish hare in the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985 and the Wildlife Act 1976.

5.2 Site safeguard and management

5.2.1 Ensure that state and semi-state-owned lands are managed, where appropriate, with a view to conservation of Irish hares.
(ACTION: All Government departments, local authorities and state-sponsored bodies)

5.2.2 Establish hare sanctuaries and/or hare reserves at suitable locations.
(ACTION: EHS, Water Service, DARD, MOD, Prison Service, NPWS)

5.3 Species management and protection

5.3.1 Seek to develop a strategy for the conservation and monitoring of the Irish hare (possibly as part of a wider UK mammal strategy or on an all-Ireland basis.

5.4 Advisory

5.4.1 Prepare and distribute publications containing information and management advice about hares. Distribute to landowners / land managers, farmers, golf courses, airports and other known hare localities.

5.4.2 Ensure that relevant staff in DARD, Teagasc and NPWS are sufficiently trained and informed to advise on management for the Irish hare.

5.4.3 Ensure that relevant information on Irish hares is included in REPS farm advisory talks.

5.5 Future research and monitoring

5.5.1 Promote general research into the biology, ecology and population dynamics of the Irish hare.

5.5.2 Conduct a base-line survey to determine the current population of the Irish hare throughout Ireland.

5.5.3 Repeat surveys throughout Ireland at intervals of 3-5 years until 2015 to calibrate other less-detailed surveys and to measure the success of the ACTION plan.

5.5.4 Carry out repeatable monitoring surveys to determine population and range change throughout Ireland.

5.5.5 Establish the status of the brown hare in Ireland and investigate its impact on Irish hare populations.

5.5.6 Investigate the relative importance of hares in terms of economic damage to crops, to assist farmers and foresters to make informed choices in hare management.
(ACTION: DARD, DAF, Forest Service (NI), Forest Service (RoI)

5.5.7 Conduct research into possible effects of hare coursing and beagling on the population dynamics of the Irish hare.
(ACTION: Bord na gCon, DAST, NPWS, EHS)

5.5.8 Ensure that information gathered in surveys is passed to national biological recording centres such as CEDaR.
(ACTION: EHS, NPWS, Forest Service)

5.6 Communication and publicity

5.6.1 Inform local authorities and statutory agencies of the presence of Irish hare in their areas of responsibility and ensure that they are aware of the potential risks to Irish hare that could be caused through inappropriate land management or development.

5.6.2 Ensure that the conservation needs of the Irish hare are publicised and use salient points as examples of how land management practices can benefit hare populations.

5.6.3 Encourage public participation in appropriate survey work and encourage the reporting of incidental sightings to relevant bodies. Produce leaflets so that the public can easily tell the difference between Irish hares and rabbits.

6. Links with other plans

Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans

  • Lowland meadow
  • Purple moorgrass and rush pasture
  • Coastal and floodplain grazing marsh
  • Species-rich hedgerows
  • Lowland wood-pasture and parkland
  • Upland heathland
  • Lowland heathland
  • Lowland Raised Bog
  • Blanket Bog

Northern Ireland Species Action Plans

  • Curlew

All-Ireland Species Action Plans

  • Corncrake

7. References

Barett-Hamilton, G.E.H. & Hinton, M.A.C. (1910-1921). A history of British mammals. Gurney & Jackson. London.

Dingerkus, S. K. (1997). The distribution and ecology of the Irish hare Lepus timidus hibernicus in Northern Ireland. Unpublished PhD thesis. The Queen's University of Belfast.

Dingerkus, S. K. and Montgomery, W. I. (1977). The distribution of the Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) in Northern Ireland and its relationship to land classification. Gibier Faune Sauvage 14 325-334

EU Directive 92/43/EEC (Habitats Directive).

Fairley, J. (1984). An Irish beast book. 2nd Edition. Blackstaff Press. Belfast

Fairley, J. (2001). A basket of weasels. Privately published. Belfast.

Jeffrey, R. (1997). Aspects of the ecology and behaviour of the Irish hare, Lepus timidus hibernicus (Bell, 1837) on lowland farmland. PhD Thesis. Trinity College Dublin.

Pielowski, Z. (1976). Cats and dogs in the European hare hunting ground. In Ecology & Management of European here populations (ed. Z. Pielowski and Z. Pucek), pp. 153-156.

Tapper, S. C. and Barnes, R. F. W. (1986). Influence of farming practice on the ecology of the brown hare (Lepus europaeus). Journal of Applied Ecology 23 39-52.

Thulin, C-G., Jaarola, M. and Tegelstrom, H. (1997). The occurrence of mountain hare mitochondrial DNA in wild brown hares. Molecular Ecology 6 463-467.

Whilde, A. (1993). Threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and fish in Ireland. Irish Red Data Book 2: Vertebrates. HMSO, Belfast.

Wolfe, A. (1994). Coat colour in the Irish hare and the status of the brown hare. Irish Naturalists' Journal 24: 472

Wolfe, A. (1995). A study of the ecology of the Irish mountain hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus) with some considerations for its management and that of the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) on North Bull Island, Dublin Bay. PhD Thesis. University College Dublin.

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