Mountain hares in Derbyshire

The Peak District contains the only mountain hares in Great Britain outside Scotland and a small population on the Isle of Man. The current Peak District mountain hare population is descended from animals released around 1870-1882 which soon colonised the moors of the Dark Peak. Populations on the southwest moors, some or all which originated from a release in North Staffordshire in 1894, have died out, as has a former population on Eyam Moor. Expansion in the southeast of the Peak District was noted during the 1970s.

The 2000 Survey was a collaborative project between several partner organisations, co-ordinated by DWT's High Peak Group. The survey aimed to establish current distribution and status and assess conservation needs. Targeted surveys throughout the known area of recent distribution were augmented by records from rangers, wardens and members of the public.

Over 100 people contributed records and survey coverage was virtually complete across the area. Distribution was proved in 332 1-km squares across the Peak District, a 35% increase since the last published survey in 1984. The increase was most marked in the north. An estimated 944 animals were counted on the survey, also an increase on the 1984 figure of 735. Survey methodology did not allow a very robust estimate of the total population to be made. The Peak District population has been expanding for over 30 years, apparently recovering from a low point caused by the severe 1962-63 winter.

The principal threats are adverse winter weather and the small size and isolation of the population. The area of moorland in the Peak District declined during the 20th century as a result of several factors but some of these losses are now being reversed through reductions in sheep grazing, replanting and other measures. Many of these are linked to agreements under the North Peak Environmentally Sensitive Area. Priority status afforded to upland heath and blanket bog under EU legislation and the UK and local Biodiversity Action Plans should lead to continuing improvements in the area and quality of the habitat. Moorland management for grouse shooting benefits mountain hares incidentally by providing constant supply of young heather and controlling predators. Almost all the existing distribution lies within the Dark Peak and Eastern Moors SSSIs and South Pennine Moors Special Protection Area and several landowners are sympathetic.

The most immediate need is for research that will provide an accurate figure for the total population and subsequent monitoring of population trends.

Dave Mallon