New figures from The Wildlife Trusts released on Monday have shown that brown hare numbers have increased by 35 per cent on farms participating in the WildCare scheme.

The WildCare scheme, developed in conjunction with The Wildlife Trusts, works with the 60 farmers in the Waitrose Select Farm dairy pool, helping them to enhance wildlife habitat on their land. Waitrose pays these farmers a premium for their milk in return for farming in a manner which benefits wildlife. Participating farms reported numbers of brown hares have increased by 35 per cent from 167 last year to 225 this year. Advisers encourage farmers to leave stubble over winter and wide grass margins in arable fields to provide shelter.

The species has suffered a 75 per cent decline over the past 50 years and concern about declining numbers led to the introduction of a UK biodiversity action plan, which aims to increase the hare population to around two million by 2010. A DEFRA spokesman told Shooting Times: “WildCare is a positive example of how landowners and conservation groups can work together to enhance biodiversity on farming land.”

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), which is the lead partner for the conservation of brown hares under the biodiversity action plan, also welcomed the figures. Dr Stephen Tapper told Shooting Times that the past two wet summers have not been good for brown hares, so the results of this project are encouraging: “We are delighted that brown hares have benefited so much from this scheme. Though hares are not rare or endangered, their numbers have declined since World War II and we would like to see more projects of this nature.”

The rest of this article appears in 26 February issue of Shooting Times.

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