Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

A hare raiser best to enjoy

Despite being an annoyance, they have mythical appeal

As there seems to be no effective solution to protecting young trees, other than surrounding them with rabbit wire, maybe it's best to accept a degree of tree damage and enjoy the company of hares or rabbits, especially at Easter
As there seems to be no effective solution to protecting young trees, other than surrounding them with rabbit wire, maybe it's best to accept a degree of tree damage and enjoy the company of hares or rabbits, especially at Easter
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Coming upon a hare nestled behind a tuft of grass recently made me recall the difficulties I had in coping with them when I first planted large numbers of trees in the 1990s.

Not only did they sharpen their teeth on the young trees, but so clean and tidy was the cut that, in many cases, it looked as if someone had nipped off the leaders and side branches with secateurs. They even nibbled at the bark on the marker pegs I had laid out as a guide for the fencing and, at times, I felt that this was a battle the hares would win.

The damage the hares caused each night and early morning was so severe that we had to stop planting until fencing with rabbit wire was completed. This did not totally eliminate the damage as hares can jump an astonishing two metres but most did not bother.

I then bought a lurcher and walked through the plantations with him every two or three days.

Any hares that had jumped into the planted area were then given a chance to flee or end up in the cooking pot -- and this reduced the damage to acceptable levels.

Although I still enjoy a day's rough shooting, I cannot bring myself to shoot a hare. I don't really know why this is so, other than perhaps it is because of the mythology associated with them and their extraordinary appeal. They are, after all, one of our few truly wild creatures that still manage to survive in the farmed countryside.

Lepus timidus hibernicus, or the Irish hare, is a truly amazing animal that can reach speeds of up to 40mph, has 360 vision and can even swim up to a mile.

Hares can produce up to four litters of 8-10 leverets each year and, unlike rabbits, their young are born fully developed.

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They are embedded in our folk history and have been credited as being an earthly form of troubled spirits, witches and banshees.


The cry of a wounded hare is a heart-rending sound that, once heard, is never forgotten, and perhaps this has something to do with most people's reluctance to harm them.

The most striking thing about hare mythology is that along with the myth of a great flood, it is present throughout the world, from Africa to Europe, the Americas and the Far East.

After the ice age, when people first colonised Ireland, they brought with them belief in gods, one of whom was the moon goddess Eostre, who was worshiped in the spring.

Some thought they could see the image of a hare carrying an egg on the moon's surface so the hare was believed to be the earthly form of Eostre, who gazed up at the moon that was her home. This lore has not only given us the name of our present Easter holiday but also Easter eggs and the Easter bunny.

The hare has also been long associated with madness and anyone who has witnessed the antics of hares in March can well understand why this might be so. They can also provoke a sense of rage when you look at a line of freshly planted beech hedging and realise that many of the plants may have to be replaced.

I regularly receive requests for a means of protecting young trees and shrubs from hares and there are a few products available for that purpose. How effective they are I have no idea, but seeing they are commercially available, presumably they work to at least some degree.

Grazers repellant is one that is available in Ireland and is distributed by Unichem Ltd. When sprayed on the plant, it is absorbed by the leaves rendering them unpalatable.

Being systemic, I understand it is not effective when sprayed on young trees during the dormant season but apparently works well on green material such as grass, laurel or trees in-leaf.

I then contacted Steven Meyen, Teagasc's forestry adviser in Donegal, who mentioned two products, one called Durapel and another named Skoot. I could not find the names of suppliers but Steven said they are painted on the plants and, as far as he knew, could be effective.

He also suggested two strands of electrified wire as used sometimes by nurseries to protect young trees. Other than surrounding the trees with rabbit wire, there seems to be no fully effective solution. Maybe it's best to live and let live. Accept a degree of tree damage and just enjoy the company of hares in the wild, especially during Easter.

Indo Farming