BASC has published its new code of practice on the management of brown hares in England.

In a statement about the document, BASC said the code was designed to ensure that a sustainable population of hares is achieved but also to allow humane control where they become a serious agricultural pest.

The code, written by BASC and the GWCT, is supported by the Tenant Farmers Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Moorland Association, the CLA and the Countryside Alliance.

The code sets out both statutory and voluntary measures to a wide range of circumstances and needs. Mike Swan, head of education at the GWCT and Shooting Times contributor, said: “The GWCT has been at the forefront of research on hares for over 20 years and managed to achieve a ten-fold increase on its own research farm over three years. We welcome this new code for brown hare management.”

The code includes many points of law pertaining to hares, such as the 1892 Hares Preservation Act, which makes it an offence to sell, or expose for sale, any hare or leveret between the months of March and July inclusive, removing any commercial incentive to kill hares during their main breeding season.

The code also states that it is thought that, while hares have suffered under the intensification of agriculture during the 20th century, since the 1990s the population has generally remained stable.

The document advises controlling hares to prevent damage during January and February, when the hares are visible, and that if possible, control during the main breeding season should be avoided.

The rights of tenant farmers are also outlined, namely that they retain the right to kill hares whether or not they hold the shooting rights.

However due to the limitations of their rights to authorise others to use firearms, they can only organise hare drives with consent from the landowner or sporting tenant, who also has the right to take hares.

Practical advice is available for improving the habitat for hares from the GWCT in a code produced by the trust and the Mammal Society.

The publication does state, however, that the major determinants of hare numbers have been shown to be from prevailing farm practices, cropping and predation: Where habitat is good and foxes are well controlled, hares can multiply very quickly and become locally abundant to the point of being a pest.

In March, Shooting Times reported that several wildlife groups were calling for a close season on hares (News, 13 March) and last May, Adrian Sanders MP tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a close season.

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BASC and GWCT publish new code on brown hare control