Wildlife: See mountain hares in Peak District

Claire Hanley-Opik, of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

Claire Hanley-Opik, of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

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The Peak District is the only place in England to have a population of mountain hares.

These are our native species; the brown hare was brought over to this country by the Romans along with the rabbit.

Mountain Hare

Mountain Hare

Our local population of mountain hares is descended from mountain hares brought into England for hunting in the late 1800’s. They are slightly smaller than the brown hare and in winter its fur turns white to help camouflage it against the winter landscape – there are just the tips of its ears that remain black.

The mountain hares normally only move about at night and are highly nervous about potential predators, which makes them hard to spot most of the time.

However, the month of March is traditionally said to be the time for hares to go mad and the elusive mountain hare is no exception to this rule – it is just a little more work to find them than your regular brown variety of hare.

In the uplands of the Dark Peak in the Peak District, mountain hares can be seen in broad daylight, leaping into the air for no apparent reason, chasing each other – they are incredibly fast – and standing on their hind legs hitting each other with their forepaws, like two heavyweight boxers duking it out for the championship.

It was always assumed that the ‘boxing’ was competitive behaviour, with the male hares fighting for the right to mate.

However, observation has shown that this behaviour is often the female hare rebuffing the male – possibly either because she doesn’t want his amorous advances, or as a way of testing his determination. The boxing can be vicious, and male hares often have scars along the length of their ears. So much for the gentler sex.

Take a pair of binoculars on a trip to Ladybower Wood SSSI Nature Reserve, and look for hares warming themselves on outcrops which catch the afternoon sun – the last of their winter coat makes them stand out against the dark stone. Good luck.

To find out more about the wildlife you can find in the Peak District, visit Derbyshire Wildlife Trust website.