In October 2018 Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust initiated a partnership project with the University of East Anglia to study a series of mysterious hare deaths in the East Anglia region. In promoting this work on TV, radio and the press, UEA have received reports of large numbers of hare deaths from across the UK (including south-west England, Wales and Scotland). Post mortems indicate that several viruses are involved including hares dying with symptoms characteristic of myxomatosis in rabbits. The reports indicate that these infections are spreading throughout the national brown hare population, and that spread is rapid.
Wiltshire Mammal Group is therefore asking anyone seeing a freshly dead hare to record its location and grid reference, date and to photograph the entire animal – especially around the head and bottom – and send the information to Dr Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia. Dr Bell has recently been studying the impacts of diseases on rabbit populations, including myxomatosis and strains of haemorrhagic disease.
Dr Bell said: “The death of any animal is obviously distressing but we’re asking people to try and photograph these hares to help us understand what is happening. Getting good images and the actual bodies of these hares, along with their exact location, is crucial for us to rule out or identify possible diseases. Any dead animals should be double-bagged using gloves and where possible put into a freezer for collection or ”
Wiltshire is an important stronghold for brown hares in the UK; the recently-published Mammals in Wiltshire (Second Edition) demonstrates that they are widely-spread in the county and indeed are more frequently recorded that rabbits. In fact, rabbits have declined rapidly in recent years in response to different strains of rabbit haemorrhagic disease.
There is also no closed season for hares, which means that they can be shot legally at any time of the year – including during breeding season. Illegal hare coursing is also still prevalent in Wiltshire (see Wiltshire Rural Crime Team Facebook page, 17th December 2018).
Hares can be distinguished from rabbits in a number of ways. Hares are larger than rabbits, with longer hind legs and black-tipped ears that are as least as long as their heads.
Have you seen a sick or dead hare?
Since more than one virus is involved, observers may encounter dead or dying hares exhibiting a range of symptoms, including the bulging eyes and bleeding characteristic of Myxomatosis to a wide range of other symptoms seen in the haemorrhagic disease (including looking apparently perfectly healthy to bleeding from the eyes and orifices, and lethargy).
Please note the precise location & grid reference (using a map or this website), and date.
The team are keen to receive carcasses of the hare for post-mortem and analyses to confirm which viral infection is involved. Using gloves where-ever possible, double-bag carcasses and tag with the date and location and then freeze or leave in a cold place.
Please send your report, with a photograph of the hare (including its head and bottom) to Dr Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia by emailing email@example.com. Inform Dr Bell immediately and arrangements will be made for collection of carcases.
And for those reports in the south-west of England, please also copy your report to another member of this research team, Dr Alex Barlow MRCVS, APHA Wildlife Group, Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Alex.Barlow@apha.gov.uk
Carcases can be delivered, after discussion of case, to either of two sites depending on location; Please don’t deliver carcases before discussion of cases.
- Main site; APHA Starcross VI Centre, Starcross, Staplake Mount, Starcross, Exeter, Devon, EX6 8PE
- Bristol Vet School’s Post Mortem Room, at Langford House, Langford, Nr Bristol, Somerset, BS40 5DU
Wiltshire Mammal Group is not able to collect or store carcasses or arrange for their delivery.
Please be aware; this is incredibly serious for the UK’s brown hare populations (its not yet known what the impact may be upon mountain hare populations), and it is likely to result in a massive reduction in hare numbers. In a county such as Wiltshire, this will be especially noticeable where hares are normally so frequently seen.
In parts of East Anglia, the impact upon hare populations is expected to be so significant that some shooting estates have ceased any shooting of hares (for either sport, pest control or eating) in order to support populations as much as possible.
This webpage will be updated with additional information as it comes available
(GOH 18/12/2018, updated 19/12/2018)
Dr Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Barlow Veterinary Investigation Officer, APHA Wildlife Group, Alex.Barlow@apha.gsi.uk
Gareth Harris, Wiltshire Mammal Group, email@example.com