International wildlife charity Born Free is calling for urgent action to be taken in order to protect Britain’s fast-declining hare population by introducing a ‘close season’ in England and Wales.

In the 20th century alone, it is estimated that the UK populations of both the brown hare (Lepus europaeus) and mountain hare (Lepus timidus) have reduced by 80% or more.

Hares are threatened by loss of habitat through changes to agricultural practices, predation (principally by foxes), and various diseases. As if these challenges weren’t enough, 300,000 or more hares are shot each year on farmland and shooting estates, in the name of ‘sport’.

Across most of Europe, hares are protected against shooting and deliberate killing during their breeding season, which typically runs from February to September. Scotland then introduced a close season in 2012; however, England and Wales are yet to follow suit.

While The Hares Preservation Act of 1892 is still in force, it only prohibits the sale of hares from 1st March-31st July. It does nothing to prevent them being shot. Indeed, most shoots take place in February when females are already pregnant or nursing dependent young, resulting in the death of leverets through starvation or predation, and the loss of breeding females, with serious animal welfare and conservation implications.

On Tuesday 14th May, former Agriculture Minister George Eustice MP is introducing a Private Members Bill to Parliament. Backed by Born Free, this Bill is repealing the outdated 1892 Act and replacing it with a prohibition of the killing or taking of hares during their breeding season.

“Seeing a spring hare sitting bolt upright or zig-zagging at speed across a field is a real treat. Sadly, it is one that is becoming increasingly rare on our islands,” said Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy at Born Free.

“Concerted action is urgently needed to protect these magical and mystical animals, not least from those who would shoot them for sport during their critical breeding season. As such, Born Free fully supports Mr Eustice’s Bill and hopes that Parliament recognises the clear and urgent need for action to protect hares in the same way they are protected in the rest of Europe and Scotland,” Jones added.