Haring around the Cerne Valley
In the month that will see hares boxing, Jenny Elliott captures what is normally one of nature’s shyest creatures
Published in March ’12
Although related to the rabbit, a hare is easily distinguished from a rabbit, even at distance, by the hare’s very long ears and much longer, leaner body. It also runs tail down, so there is not the white flash of a tail as the animal runs. The hare breeds and lives its whole life above ground – not in a burrow – and its main habitat is open farmland.
When hares rest they will usually make a shallow depression in the soil, known as a form, which is often made in the shelter of a large stone or a tussock to give some protection from the wind. When lying in a form hares will keep very still, freezing their ears tight to their body if they see a threat approaching. It is almost possible to step on them before they break cover and run off. Hares can reach speeds of between 35-45 miles an hour when they are escaping from danger, but they cannot sustain this speed for any great time.
Hares are incredibly well camouflaged when on bare soil and have the appearance of a dead tussock of grass. I have often focused my camera on one of many tussocks thinking it may be a hare, only to find another ‘tussock’, which I hadn’t focused on, getting up and running away.
Although hares are usually very shy creatures, in the breeding season they become much bolder and, if one is very lucky, the hares will be so preoccupied with trying to win a mate that they will completely ignore an observer – provided no sudden movements are made. It is during this period that hares can often be seen boxing. Contrary to expectations, it is often the female doing the boxing, as she tries to rebuff an ardent male – either because she is not ready to mate or she is playing hard to get in order to make sure that he is really keen.
The young are called leverets and are born in the open with a full coat of hair and open eyes, which is handy as their mothers will leave them alone and only return to suckle for a few minutes at the end of the day. Leverets will start grazing for themselves after about a fortnight and a further fortnight later are fully weaned.
Hares can have between two and four litters a year, usually between the months of February and September, although in years with mild winters they can breed all through the year. There are many hares on the farmland surrounding my home and I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to observe and photograph them.
Where to see hares
Other than the Cerne Valley, Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) suggest that West Bexington DWT reserve in the Fleet hinterland, the chalk ridge between Martinstown, Bincombe and Osmington, on the Purbeck Ridge at Kimmeridge, and Fontmell are good reserves on which to spot a hare.