Spring into new season with Otmoor’s hares

Leveret in Otmoor''Image by RSPB Otmoor volunteer Peter Barker
Leveret in Otmoor''Image by RSPB Otmoor volunteer Peter Barker

BROWN hares are bouncing back at the RSPB Otmoor reserve near Bicester this month.

Mad March hares can be seen boxing and gamboling in open countryside at the reserve following habitat restoration work.

A team of 30 volunteers was out last weekend conducting a survey of Otmoor’s thriving brown hare population.

RSPB volunteer Ellen Lee, speaking ahead of the survey, said: “The brown hare is a UK BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) priority species, although the population at Otmoor appear to be thriving, their numbers are declining in other areas of the country.

“At a local level, any changes on the reserve may affect their population. Results from the survey will help to see any trends and will give us a valuable insight into their remarkable lives.”

Recent surveys show UK brown hare populations have declined by more than 80 per cent over the last 100 years. Drainage of land for food production has been a major factor, the RSPB says.

Hares do not hibernate and need a constant food supply throughout the year, such as wild grasses and herbs – which can only be provided by landscapes rich in biodiversity.

A recent award of £109,399 from the not-for-profit organisation WREN will help secure the future of Otmoor’s habitats, including those relied upon by hares.

Otmoor’s varied habitats are home to almost 100 species of animals and plants, including lapwing, skylarks, watervole and otters.

Thanks to the WREN funding, more restoration work can be carried out. Arable land created by the draining of the Otmoor marshes will be restored to floodplain grazing marsh, lowland meadow and reedbeds.

Otmoor’s unusual mix of wild grasslands and open spaces has inspired authors including John Buckham and Lewis Carroll.

Carroll once lived near Otmoor, and it is thought its chequerboard field patterns may have provided inspiration for his second Alice novel, Through the Looking Glass.

The RSPB is also working with farmers across Oxfordshire to create wet grassland, helping hares as well as to breeding wading birds such as lapwing.

Entry to the Otmoor reserve is free. For details and directions, visit www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/o/otmoor.