How illegal hunting is threatening the graceful Brown hare

For centuries the hare has been synonymous with the month of March, thanks in part to the expression mad as a March hare, derived from the energetic and feisty behaviour they display at this time of year during breeding season. But the real madness for hares is that this much-loved, iconic species is actually under very serious threat. Threats such as shooting, coursing and hunting.   

Brown hare numbers have declined by 80 per cent during the last century, according to The Hare Preservation Trust, and they have all but disappeared from some areas of the UK. Despite hares having priority status under the UK Biodiversity Plan, they are one of the only game species in England and Wales not protected by a closed hunting season, so individuals can be shot throughout the year, including during their breeding times when they can be pregnant or nursing young leverets. 

As well as pressure from organised shooting, the other reasons hares are literally staring down the barrel of declining numbers is because they’re losing habitat, they’re at risk from poaching and because illegal hare coursing and hare hunting is still going on across the British countryside. Shockingly, more than ten years after the hunting ban made it illegal to chase and kill hares; they are still being persecuted in the name of ‘fun’. 

Hare hunting – talked about a lot less than fox hunting – involves the same cruel chase and brutal kill and is considered by some as good ‘sport’. There are still more than 100 hare hunts listed in Baily’s Hunting Directory, out of the 300 or so active hunts in England and Wales, and League investigators have been looking at the activities of several of them this hunting season. Prior to the Hunting Act 2004, hare hunts targeted brown hares with packs of harriers, beagles or bassets, usually followed by the hunt on foot but with some operating on horseback. So what are these hunts doing now a hunting ban is in place? 

Well, they might tell you that they’re ‘trail’ hunting. Most hunts switched to trail hunting after the ban. An activity not in existence prior to the Act coming in, hunts claiming to be ‘trail’ hunting say they lay a pre-laid trail for their hounds to follow through the countryside. Our investigators didn’t see any trails being laid when out monitoring hare hunts this season. Hare hunts will also tell you that they’re rabbit hunting, but our investigators didn’t see any rabbits being chased this season.

Hares are reluctant to leave their territory, so hare hunting normally takes place across a limited area of only a few square miles and unlike foxes and mink; they spend their lives above ground and don’t seek refuge underground, instead relying on camouflage and vegetation to hide from predators. What chance against a pack of dogs, urged on by a huntsman and hunt followers pointing and waving when the terrified individual breaks cover. If the hare doesn‘t manage to escape the hounds – they’ve evolved to run high speeds for short periods and usually can’t match the stamina of hounds that will chase and chase – it eventually tires and when caught will be torn to pieces. 

In October 2015, League investigators filmed the Eton College Beagles chasing a hare in North Yorkshire. Footage was handed to police, but sadly went no further. This season, investigators have prepared case files for the police against two hare hunts, where they have witnessed and recorded evidence of hares being hunted illegally. We hope this time the evidence results in a successful prosecution. We need to stop those who continue to flout the law and who are putting hare numbers under even more pressure in the cruellest of ways.

Hare coursing is a different 'sport' to hare hunting. It involves two fast dogs being set loose to chase a hare. Traditionally taking place on a small scale, large-scale events were also in existence before the ban, such as the famous Waterloo Cup. Despite hare coursing being banned, along with hare hunting, by the Hunting Act 2004, reports of hare coursing in the Fens, East Anglia and other regions around the country are becoming more frequent in the media. 

We urgently need to strengthen the Hunting Act, tightening the loopholes being exploited by those still determined to persecute hares and other wildlife and bringing in tougher sentences for people convicted of illegal hunting. We’re calling on the 90 per cent of people who oppose hare hunting and hare coursing to sign our petition in support of strengthening the ban and ensuring better protection for the vulnerable Brown hare.

Although hare shooting can take place all year round, thankfully, hare hunting season is drawing to a close. But there’s no time for us to rest on our laurels, this graceful animal is extremely vulnerable and any return to the cruel sports of hare hunting and hare coursing could see them wiped out in many parts of Britain for good. Now that really would be madness.

Our precious wildlife deserves the right to live without the fear of being hunted. Please sign our petition to stop the killing of hares and other wild animals by hunts.


Sign up for our newsletter

We'd love to keep in touch. With your permission we'll let you know the very latest news on our fast-moving campaigns, as well as appeals and other actions (such as petitions) so you can continue to help protect animals.

If you would like to know more about your data protection rights, please read our privacy policy.

© 2023 The League Against Cruel Sports. Registered charity in England and Wales (1095234) and Scotland (SC045533).
Registered in England and Wales as a company limited by guarantee, no. 04037610.
Registered office: New Sparling House, Holloway Hill, Godalming, GU7 1QZ, United Kingdom.