Moorland dwelling mountain hares

mountain hare sitting on snow, Dark Peak, Derbyshire

Steven Lindop, Area Ranger in the Peak District, helps to restore the high moorland to its natural state, as part of the National Trust’s 50 year High Peak Vision. Moorland owned by the National Trust covers approximately one third of the entire Peak District National Park. Spending a great deal of his time in these moorlands, Steve has developed a love of mountain hares.

Best recognised by their shock of white fur in winter and associated with moonlight mythology, the fleeting sight of a mountain hare is a treasured treat when rambling over our precious moorlands. Steve shares with us, his thoughts about moorland dwelling mountain hares in the Peak District National Park.

How big are mountain hares?

Mountain hares are smaller than the brown hare, weighing between 2.5 kg -3.1 kg; the females are slightly heavier than the males. The summer coat is brown, or grey brown, with white undersides, but in the autumn/winter months, their coats turn white for camouflage.

Camouflaged mountain hare
Camouflaged mountain hare
Camouflaged mountain hare

How do you look after the moorlands for hares?

The moorlands are cut on a crop rotation cycle, for a bird called the grouse, and this is ideal for mountain hares. It provides a mixture of tall leggy heather, in which the young hares will be born, and provides natural shelter from the weather and predation from foxes. The shorter cut areas are then used by the hares for feeding and drying out after the squally showers have passed.

How can I spot mountain hares?

Mountain hares often lie up amongst rock, shallow heather, clumps of bilberry, in runnels between tussocks of matt grass, and in the open on the side of peak groughs, where they find shelter from the ever present wind on the high moorlands. They rely on camouflage to protect them from predation, lying very still, until disturbed, at which point they will run away very quickly.

Often you will see a long pair of ears pointed skyward amongst the vegetation, as they listen for approaching animals or humans.

Mountain hare in its winter coat
Mounatin hare in its winter coat
Mountain hare in its winter coat

What do you love most about mountain hares?

The mountain hare is sleek, beautiful and elegant. The first thing you see are the ear tips poking above the heather shoots, then you will see them standing on their hind legs sniffing and looking around reminiscent of the meerkat. In late February and early March the hares start pairing up and the males really do box each other. The mountain hare coats change with the seasons from brown to white in winter and it is really nice to see how they adapt to the conditions. But more than anything is that they are a daily companion, always around inquisitive yet shy, always keeping their distance but a constant backdrop to our working life.

The High Peak Moors Vision

You can read the 50 year vision in full for the High Peak moors here.