by Paul Cormacain
THERE was a great conference on the Irish Hare with learned folk coming from all over Europe, and indeed further afield, all telling what they knew about this animal.
Some talked about their experiences of other animals, and how this experience could be brought to bear in helping our hare.
The Irish Hare is a sub-species of the mountain hare, and is only found on this island. When the last Ice Age departed the hare arrived, so this would be about ten thousand years ago. Perhaps because they were separated from other mountain hares they developed separately, and became different.
One of the big differences between Irish and mountain hares is that the Irish does not become white in winter. The Irish found its way here, probably via England from Europe, then Wales or Scotland. Our own rabbits, and our own brown hares, were introduced here.
Unlike the rabbit the hare does not burrow, but spends most of its life above ground. Some folk will say they have seen a hare emerging from a rabbit burrow, or from a hole in rocks, but this would be the exception rather than the norm.
During the day the hare tends to lie low, in a form which is basically flattened grass, and will only move if a dog or human comes close. When rabbits are born, they are blind and helpless and the mother visits at intervals to feed them in the burrow. Not so the hare, for their young are born at an advanced stage of development.
The new born hare's eyes are open, and its hair is grown. They shelter in the form, lying low, while the mother goes off to feed. It is a good job that rabbits spend their first days in a burrow, and the young hares live in a form. Nature is a wonderful thing.
Historically, the Irish Hare was once common and widespread throughout the island. There is now a fear that numbers have been dropping, and the belief is that the reduction in numbers has been greatest in the last two decades. If my information is up-to-date, it is still legal to hunt hares, however.
You may hunt them with dogs from 12th August till the end of January. But don't! Or you may shoot them between August 12th and January 31st. Who could shoot a hare?
In the old days, when we owned a dog, we used to go rambling through the fields together. It was the norm for the dog, with his superior vision and sense of smell, to raise a hare regularly, and then to chase it. We don't do that any more. It has to be recorded that the dog never caught a hare, or a rabbit, or a fox. And without the dog, it is now more difficult to see a hare, rabbit or fox.
At the conference, it was demonstrated that the hare is in trouble because of a number of factors. Predation of the young by other wildlife was mentioned. In some places in the highlands there are now more sheep, so there is grazing competition there. Illegal hunting and over-hunting does not help.
Gradual habitat change can sometimes mean less rushes and hedges, thus fewer daytime hiding places.
Increased numbers of livestock, increased farm machinery, are all bad news for the hare. (Have you witnessed the change from folk cutting their own turf to hiring a machine to do it?)
The conference was trying to draw together all the strands pertaining to the Irish Hare, and to figure out a grand masterplan that can be used into the future! New Year's Resolution for next year, help save the hare!
Saturday 29 November - Learn more about the natural benefits of many of our native plants, 10am, and get more details from Oxford Island, on 3832 2205
Celebrate Tree Week at Portush Countryside Centre, 12am, and take your pick from animal rescue, raptors, wildlife wagon, tree dressing and craft, storytelling and competitions. More from DOE 9054 0003.
Monday 1 December - Sounds like an interesting tour of the library at Pinebank, looking at the background and history of the area. Details from Oxford Island, 3832 2205
Friday 5 December - After your bird-watching at Oxford Island Discovery Centre, you could do some Christmas shopping at the Centre, 6pm, details from 3832 2205
Sunday 7 December - Help the Wildlife Trust by helping with hazel coppicing at Straidkilly, 11am, and more from Malachy Martin on 4483 082
Monday 15 December - Lisburn RSPB members' night, at 7.30