How hares stand to get fringe benefits from fields

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FARMERS could help hares survive by planting more grass strips on the edges of fields, research has found.

Over the past century the number of hares has fallen around 80 per cent, with destruction of habitat and changes in agricultural methods thought to be major factors.

A team from the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences on the University of Hull’s Scarborough campus and the Food and Environment Research Agency tracked hares with radio collars for over a year on farmland in North Yorkshire.

Researchers found especially in large uniform fields, the hares spend most of their time near the margins resting or foraging, and they particularly like margins where farmers have sown grasses and wildflowers, even if that’s only a small proportion of the whole area.

Dr Phil Wheeler, from the University, said: “This work shows that the loss of field margins may have contributed to the decline in brown hares.

“However, the positive message is that we may be able to support hare conservation by focussing on the edges of fields, rather than trying to change how entire fields are farmed. Farmers get paid for implementing agri-environment measures like developing grassy, species-rich field margins and our work shows that these are beneficial for hares.”

Co-researcher Dr Silviu Petrovan, now conservation coordinator at the charity Froglife, said: “We must now work together with other specialists to see how the positive effects of field margins could be maximised for a whole range of wildlife species.”