As we approach Easter, there is still precious little change in the ongoing Brexit saga. However, since it is Easter, I have been working on a new Bill to be put before Parliament that would help to protect hares during their breeding season and prevent so many baby hares from being orphaned and left to perish.
My forthcoming Hares Preservation Bill aims is to introduce a close season on the killing and taking of hares during the breeding season. This is predominantly an animal welfare issue in that dependent baby hares (leverets) are left to starve if their mother is shot. However, there are also some concerns about our Brown Hare population which is coming under pressure from disease at the moment.
The need for a close season was actually recognised by our Victorian forebears. In 1892 they introduced the Hares Preservation Act which established a close season but did so by having a prohibition on the sale of hares. In those days a ban on sale was seen as the most enforceable option since there was no wildlife licensing regime nor licencing authority in the way we have today through Natural England. Also, there was no refrigeration nor freezer technology and most hares were in fact killed to be eaten in an era when food was less plentiful. However, the 1892 Act no longer works to deliver its intended purpose since hares are not typically to be found hanging in markets these days and are shot for sport rather than food.
My new Hares Preservation Bill would provide a long overdue update to this 127 year old law. It would simply introduce a modern close season consistent with that which we already have on other mammals and birds in legislation like the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. There would be a prohibition on the killing and taking of hares during the breeding season. The breeding season in the 1892 Act was deemed to be from the 1st March to the end of August, however, there is some evidence that a February to August period might be more appropriate and we will consider this during the passage of the Bill.
The Bill would recognise that there could be some circumstances where, in very local situations in parts of East Anglia, hares could cause damage to crops so it would also make provision for Natural England to be able to licence localised culling within the breeding season if the hare population were judged to be a serious threat agricultural crops or land. However I would envisage this power being used very sparingly.
Finally, the Bill would also repeal the outdated 1892 Act since a ban on selling hare meat when it may, for instance, have been in a frozen game pie, no longer makes sense in the modern age especially once it has been replaced with a modern close season that delivers the original purpose more effectively.
Our Brown Hare population has been placed under pressure from many threats including diseases and the switch to earlier mowing of grass to make silage rather than traditional hay meadows. There is also an animal welfare issue since orphaned leverets are abandoned to starve when their mother is killed. As long ago as 1892, the Victorians recognised that it was essential to protect hares during their breeding season but and an update in the law is long overdue. It is shameful that we do not currently have anything effective in place when even the Victorians took this seriously.