Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Suffolk Wildlife Trust are joining with the University of East Anglia to call for help to discover the cause of mysterious hare deaths in the region.
Over the past month, landowners, farmers and members of the public have been in contact to report sightings of obviously sick and dead hares.
As a result, the Wildlife Trusts are asking anyone seeing a freshly dead hare to record its location, photograph the entire animal – especially around the head and bottom – and send the information to Dr Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia.
Dr Bell has recently been studying the impacts of diseases on rabbit populations, including myxomatosis and strains of hemorrhagic disease.
Dr Bell said: “Both Suffolk Wildlife Trust and I have been told about hares that have been found either dying or already dead at different sites around the county. The death of any animal is obviously distressing but we’re asking people to try and photograph these hares to help us understand what is happening. Getting good images of the bodies of these hares, along with their exact location, is crucial for us to rule out or identify possible diseases.”
East Anglia is a stronghold for brown hare, which have experienced a national decline of more than 80% in the past 100 years and are almost entirely absent from the south west of the country.
John Milton, head of nature reserves at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: “The brown hare is such an iconic species and they are not only important as wildlife, but they also contribute to the habitat of areas like the Brecks with the wild grazing they do alongside rabbits. So this is potentially another concern for us along with the hemorrhagic disease which has been affecting our rabbits.”
One of the issues facing the species is an intensification of agriculture, which has limited their supply of food and habitat. There is also no closed season for hares, which means that they can be shot legally at any time of the year – including during breeding season.
Hares can be distinguished from rabbits in a number of ways. Hares are larger than rabbits, with longer hind legs and black-tipped ears that are as least as long as their heads.
Ben McFarland, Head of Conservation at Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said: “The reports of hare deaths are obviously of great concern, especially considering the importance of the populations in this region. We are monitoring all sites closely and asking anyone who sees an animal that is dead or unwell to get in touch.”
Have you seen a sick or dead hare? Please send a photograph of the hare (including its head and bottom ) to Dr Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia