Hares: Conservation

(asked on 5th July 2023) - View Source

Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

To ask His Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the introduction of a closed season for hunting activities to coincide with the breeding and rearing of brown hares; if so, what progress they have made in this work; and if not, what alternative measures or strategies they assess would be needed to address the impact of hunting practices on dependent young hares.

Answered by
Lord Benyon Portrait
Lord Benyon
This question was answered on 12th July 2023

In May 2021, a commitment was included within the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare to consider legislation to introduce a close season for brown hares in England. It was considered that a close season, prohibiting the killing of hares during their breeding season, would be likely to reduce the number of leverets (young hares) left motherless, giving them a better chance of survival. This is consistent with Natural England’s advice on wildlife management, which is to avoid controlling species in their peak breeding season unless genuinely essential and unavoidable. Introducing a close season for brown hares remains an option. An industry-led, non-statutory code of practice to protect hares in England is already in place which states that lethal control to prevent damage to crops should only be carried out in the winter months of January and February when vegetation is low and hares are easily visible. These months avoid the main breeding season and thereby reduce risks to dependent young.

In the absence of a close season, the Government has taken other forms of action which should have beneficial effects for our brown hares. Last year we introduced new measures to strengthen law enforcement and increase the powers of the courts through the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Act to clamp down on the scourge of hare coursing. They have been widely welcomed. The new offences and higher penalties introduced by the Act are all being used and imposed by the courts. Further to this, brown hare is one of the indicator species for our legally binding targets in England to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030 and then reverse declines by 2042. We know that in order to meet these targets we will need large-scale habitat creation, restoration and improved connectivity. Our legally binding target to restore or create more than 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat is already driving action on this front, including for habitat on which hares rely to flourish, such as open grassland.

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