Minimising orphaning in the brown hare Lepus europaeus in England and Wales: should a close season be introduced?

Andrew Butterworth, Katy M E Turner, Nancy Jennings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Abstract

The European brown hare Lepus europaeus is an r-selected species showing relatively high fecundity, and changes in the hare population can be influenced by the timing of hunting and reproductive activity. Between February and August in Europe, the majority of female hares are either pregnant or suckling young, or both, and if a female is killed during the suckling period, the young hares (leverets) are orphaned and are likely to die of starvation. In England and Wales, in contrast with other European countries, there is no close season when hunting hares is prohibited, and the peak time of hunting in February coincides with the start of reproductive activity. We explore the impact of hunting practices on the risk of death by starvation of dependent young. By modelling scenarios of hunting at the highest documented rate at times of the year based on practices adopted in England and Wales, and by comparing this with the close season practice in Scotland, we quantify seasonally variable risks of orphaning and death by starvation of leverets. Hunting in February leads to a profoundly damaging combination of population shrinkage (λ = 0.534) and levels of orphaning of leverets corresponding to 7.6% of the year start population and thus providing poor welfare and poor population recovery outcomes for the hare. These illustrative figures compare very unfavourably with the modelled Scottish population which has a growth rate of λ = 1.404 and levels of orphaning of leverets corresponding to 0.3% of the year start population. We anticipate that these findings will stimulate consideration of the impact of hunting practices, and that increased understanding of the effects of the timing of hunting may aid policy development aimed at protecting dependent young hares.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberwlb.00279
Number of pages7
JournalWildlife Biology
Volume2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2017

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