The Brown Hare can be seen in a variety of different habitats in the Yorkshire Dales National Park from the riverside fields and pastures right up to the moorland edge. They can be distinguished from the much commoner rabbit by their larger size, longer legs and longer ears with a distinctive black tip. They are primarily nocturnal, spending the daylight hours in a small depression in the ground known as a ‘form’, and feed on the shoots and leaves of a variety of grasses.
They are perhaps most widely known as for their antics in spring when ‘mad March hares’ are often seen out in the open during the day. Although it is often thought that these are rival males fighting over females, they are in fact females fending off amorous males. This courtship activity actually goes on throughout much of the year but is just more obvious in spring before grass and arable crops grow too tall for the animals to be seen.
Little is known about the current status of Brown Hares in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. They are a widespread species across the Dales at low density, with the population assumed to be relatively stable. Brown Hare is still a game species and can be legally hunted and is the only game species in Britain that does not have a close season.
Mammal society – Brown Hare
The hedgehog is a species that was formerly widespread across many areas of the country including the Yorkshire Dales National Park. In recent years its national population has been declining.
There is good potential for hedgehogs throughout the Yorkshire Dales National Park except at high altitudes. Due to the lack of recording the current status of this species is unknown but it is hoped that by taking part in the national 2013 Hibernation Survey organised by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society we will find out more about this species in the Dales.
Otters were widespread across many areas of the country before river pollution and habitat loss caused significant population declines. Recent improvements in water quality have led to an increase in fish stocks and alongside riverside habitat improvements that have provided suitable undisturbed breeding sites suitable for Otters, the national population has increased.
It is a similar picture in the Yorkshire Dales National Park where there has been a slow spread into the rivers and streams of the Dales. Although there is has been no systematic survey work, there are tell-tail signs that they have returned. Inland, Otters are usually nocturnal and so sightings are particularly rare, especially when the population is at a low density. They will mark their territories with distinctive spraints – droppings that comprise droppings fish bones, scales and other indigestible material – in prominent places at prominent places such as under bridges or on large stones that with practice, can be separated from Mink spraints which are very similar. These diagnostic signs have been found in many areas, including sites in the centre of the national park so we assume that they are in all the river catchments. There have also been a few trail camera images of adults with young and some lucky people who have been fortunate enough to catch sight of one.
Further information can be found at the Wild Otter Trust