Hares in the spotlight as researchers study impact of intensive farming

Scientists fear that there is a downward trend in the Irish hare population
Scientists fear that there is a downward trend in the Irish hare population
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The impact of intensive farming on Ireland's wildlife will be under the spotlight in a new survey of the country's hare population.

This is the first such survey of Irish hare numbers in more than a decade, with the last exercise finding that the population was 530,000 in 2007.

Scientists fear that there is a downward trend in the wild hare population.

A greater focus on grassland management, along with habitat loss due to the drainage of wetlands and forestry plantings, has reduced the hare's natural habitat, hitting numbers.

Quantifying this fall is the aim of the current survey which is being carried out by the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC), in association with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Queen's University Belfast.

Members of the public are invited to submit any hare sightings to the NBDC via online record forms. The researchers are also using camera trapping devices and other technology to build a profile of population densities around the country.

The survey will run till the end of the spring, with the final statistics published next summer.

There are two varieties of hare in Ireland, the Irish or mountain hare, and the European brown hare which is found in mid-Ulster and west Tyrone.

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Ferdia Marnell of NPWS scientific unit said the camera trapping devices used for the hare survey will also provide useful data on fox and rabbit populations.

There has been some anecdotal evidence of a significant fall-off in fox numbers this winter. Laois huntsman David Lalor, chairman of the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association, said that foxes were "certainly not as plentiful" at the moment.

"It could be the poor scenting conditions, but the reports I'm getting from hunts suggest that foxes are not as numerous," Mr Lalor said.

"They are not scarce enough to be concerned, but we will be monitoring the situation."

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