Monday, 16 November 2015

How your hare sightings can help

We've been asking you to send in your sightings of brown hares, mountain hares and rabbits. Why are we interested? Read on to find out.

Mountain Hare Leveret - Photo by Phil Straton of MFFP
Brown hares, mountain hare and rabbits are the only three 'lagomorphs' living wild in the UK. Of these, only mountain hare are considered native; brown hare and rabbits having been introduced (probably) by the Romans and Normans respectively.

We're interested in how these species are being affected by climate change. The mountain hare is a particularly interesting case. It is well adapted to the harsh conditions at found at higher altitudes  - thick coat, large feet for bounding over snow, shorter ears than the brown hare (for losing less body heat) and most obviously of all a bright white coat in winter for camouflage against snow.

However; as the climate changes will the future winters leave these bright white animals standing out a mile in a landscape with no snow? Will hares begin to adapt to warmer wetter winters? Will the mountain hare start to decline at the warmest southern edge of its range (which happens to be here in the Peak District)? Will the adaptable brown hare take advantage of less harsh conditions and start to move in? There are a huge number of possible scenarios.

Mountain hare turning white

The only way to start to understand the complex interactions between animals and their environment is by collecting information and observations. Data allows us to see trends and predict what might happen in the future.

This is where you come in. By providing sightings of any of these species - simply telling us what you saw, where and when - via our simple form you can add to a nationally important knowledge base.

On its own your sighting might simply help you remember of an enjoyable wildlife experience; but when it is added to other sightings it becomes something much more powerful - it is part of a dataset which collectively can be used monitor how a species is faring and even make important decisions in conservation or land management to help secure its future.

All sightings received through our project will be verified by an expert, and will feed in to the Mammal Society's new 'Mammal Atlas'. This is the first atlas for 20 years, and aims to map vital baseline data about mammals and their distribution - which can then be continually updated and provide a hugely important resource for mammal conservation. Read more about the National Mammal Atlas Project on their website.

Your sightings will feed into The Mammal Society's National Mammal Atlas Project
The cut-off for your records to be included in this edition of the Mammal Atlas is the end of the year, so now is a very good time to send in your sightings.

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