This summertime with its excessive heat and drought brings memories of wondering whether the wilding project might enable hares to emerge on the landscape, enticed in by what was on offer! Acres of nice stocky grass, some wildflowers to eat and an occasional unprotected young tree’s bark (especially hazel). Easy to explore and hide in. Safe.
The perfect hideaway
They probably moved in long before the March 2017, when an adult hare and leveret were spotted on the eastern fields. These fields were pretty much left to their choosing, so various grass, nettles, thistles and a few docks grew happily under the planted alders, silver birches, oaks and white beams, and the very bird-food-friendly rowan.
The hares chose, as we eventually discovered, an intelligent hideaway: a cosy tête-à-tête boudoir, where no human would dare to tread, within the ever-thickening thorny bushes of blackthorn. This also was growing fast and sprouting numerous shoots, so perfect defence. This was the birthing home of the young leveret sometime in spring that year, a carefully concealed tunnel into a thick base of grass under the thicket fence, yet with easy access for flight.
Michelin star food options
The first sighting led to more on a daily basis and they started to explore around the adjacent fields to find the new Maple Hill field scrape with its fascinating array of new insect-attracting plants. Knapweed, bedstraw, field scabious, meadow sweet, yarrow – such Michelin star food options and water too!
They stayed through the winter when we discovered numerous hollowed out grass stacks where they literally bottomed their way in and hid under the flopping grass stems. Once you have found these nomadic homes – hares tend to move around them – a field of long grass is never the same again. The field voles will tell you that too. The tunnels in some of the tussocks can go back up to 50cms and more, resulting in a warm bum and a cold nose, as the hare keeps an eye on field activities, safe and unsafe.
The three hares
Three hares turned up that spring afternoon, all taking in the later afternoon sun an hour or two before sunset, to soak it in and doze in a stone or cobble-like posture horizontally flat to the ground. Photographs have been needed to sort out the accuracy of sightings of dozing ‘hares’ as some do turn out to be large field cobbles. One dozed on, while another decided to wash and spruce up and the other was on the alert.
Comfortable in their location, they relaxed and played around for a bit and even did some ‘boxing fitness’ routines. Moments of nature’s harmony within itself without the need to battle or escape from the relentless activity of man, dog and gun. The young leveret grew up in the fields and was frequently seen bounding across them, through small gaps of ever enlarging hedges with a ‘twinkle’ in its eye. Minimal fear and full of curiosity and we continue to be amazed.
Anxiety over climate change fire risk proves well-founded
While hares relish the fields, trees and shrubs as valued places to live, the humans seem oblivious to the dangers created by the year upon year lack of rain and increasing heat extremes. This year’s increasing fire risk caused anxiety – a worried sense gnawing away relentlessly with the repeated heat and drought … It’s interesting that people here don’t talk about fire risk and yet this is very real in parts of Yorkshire. We were given a stark reminder of these climate change threats ourselves this year.
A neighbour had decided to incinerate confidential waste in their metal dustbin by a joint hedge bordering fields at the beginning of May during a very tinder dry weather spell. It was the sort of day when it feels totally unsafe to have a barbecue of any sorts. Still there it was around 11am, when a plume of smoke, crackling along the hedge line with a vibrant burst of flames, caught my eye as I left the house. It was distributing confidential waste across garden and fields to be collected later!
Suddenly, my previous bushfire experience of Australia from 1982 came to the fore and in split seconds I automatically ran to the hose. But it was too slow to organise, as flames, smoke and crackles continued to grow. This was a dry, burning well fire and it would need plenty of wetness fast. So, grabbing a large builders’ bucket, I scooped water out of a cattle trough close by and threw the water over the six-foot-high hedge. I aimed for where the smoke and heat seemed concentrated, followed by a further five more bucketsful, by which time the fire seemed diminished. The hoses on both sides of the fence were out by then, pouring water into the incinerated hedge area.
The fire had just missed the summer house, newly planted fruit trees and loads of recently planted hedging plants.
Ten for Nature: a bulwark against planetary demise
Picking up the bits of confidential paper afterwards, none of it made sense. The hares up the hill, who were no doubt watching, may have wondered that too and why homo sapiens, the male in particular, is ensuring the demise of the planet. But, in a point made in Jonathan Freedland’s recent book, The Escape Artist, based on events in Auschwitz, “people can find it impossible to believe in their own imminent destruction”, perhaps especially when it’s of their own making.
Ten for Nature, a bulwark against such destruction, is sharing hope of the possibility of a different ending, certainly not incinerated any time soon!! Thanks are given in this regard for the three heavy showers of rain this last “heat zone” week.
Next time: nocturnal happenings within the tree copses and further afield.