Only 3,500 mountain hares left in England – though peatland restoration offers hope. - Queen’s University Belfast

Mountain hare on restored blanket bog, Peak District. Dr Carlos Bedson
Mountain hare on restored blanket bog, Peak District. Dr Carlos Bedson

England’s last mountain hare population in the Peak District, is now at low densities across most of the uplands, states new research.

The research, published in Ecology and Evolution, estimated the population density is just ten mountain hares per square kilometre. There are just 3,500 mountain hares throughout the National Park, putting the population at risk of extinction.

The independent study, conducted by Queen’s University Belfast and Manchester Metropolitan University, provided the first comprehensive population assessment since twenty years.

Surveys involved researchers walking over 830 kilometres and observing nearly 2,000 mountain hares.

Dr Carlos Bedson, lead author of the study said: “Our findings are deeply concerning. Whilst there are a couple of places where mountain hares are abundant, most of the Peak District hills have very few hares remaining. The highest mountain hare densities were in ecologically restored blanket bog, which has benefitted from investment in rewetting, where the natural flow of water is restored by blocking gullies and planting mosses and heather. "

Researchers suggest such interventions, managed by partners including the Moors for the Future Partnership and the National Trust, have contributed to higher plant diversity, providing a better environment for mountain hares.

Dr Bedson observed: “We have seen lifeless moonscapes of degraded bare peat, revert back into vibrant living landscapes that store carbon and support biodiversity providing ecosystem services, thanks to investment in bog restoration.”

Study collaborator, Dr Neil Reid, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Biology at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Whilst it’s alarming to learn how few hares remain it’s important to remember that our research also highlights how conservation can, and does, make a difference. In this case, healthier bogs had more hares reflecting the wider benefits of rewetting peatlands. We hope these findings will lead to more rewetting of peatlands in a bid to increase not only hare population but biodiversity more generally.”

Chris Dean, Head of Moors for the Future Partnership, said: “While the news is worrying that mountain hares in the Peak District face an uncertain future, this study provides new evidence that our work over the past 20 years has made a positive difference, improving the habitat for this emblematic species, to give it the best chance of survival.”

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Posted On: 31/03/2022

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