[holding answer 15 May 2007]: My Department has received representations in support of this matter from several hon. Members on behalf of constituents, (including Mr. Rodney Hale, chairman of the British Brown Hare Preservation Society), a petition signed by 505 members of the public, and letters from four further individuals.
Brown hares are not protected by a close season in the UK. In part, this is because it is recognised that hares can cause serious agricultural damage, and farmers need the flexibility to address problems when they occur. But mainly it is because there is currently no evidence that the introduction of a close season would significantly enhance hare numbers. Hare numbers have declined throughout Europe despite protection with close seasons.
The Hare Preservation Act 1892 forbids the sale of hares during the notional main breeding season of 1 March to 31 July inclusive. This discourages farmers from shooting hares for commercial gain at this time, and aims to limit control during the breeding season to that necessary for crop protection.
The current view of the Brown Hare Species Action Plan Steering Group is that habitat changes due to modern farming practices, rather than hunting or shooting, are the main cause of population decline in the brown hare. The steering group, which advises DEFRA on this species, has therefore not recommended the establishment of a close season. If there is any change to this advice then a case for new legislation to protect the brown hare would be considered.