By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Mar 13 2017 11:00AM
The European hare (Lepus europaeus) is perhaps best known for being “mad” in March. Its mating antics are certainly a bit loopy and worth trying to spot in early spring.
It was previously thought that the "boxing matches" between hares seen in the spring months were bouts between males competing to breed with females. However, they are actually fights between females and males, the former rejecting the advances of the latter early in the mating season. The poorly matched couples are a sure sign that spring has sprung.
Hares live in open countryside and rely on their exceptional pace to outrun predators. They can run for short periods at up to 40 mph, making them our fastest land mammal.
The health of hare populations varies greatly across the country. In some places they are now a rarity. This is particularly the case in the South-West. In Eastern counties, notably Norfolk, they are still thriving.
To go looking for hares, you'll need to be up early or late; dawn and dusk are the best times to spot them as they are very wary of humans. Even if you don't manage to see the animals themselves you should be able to spot signs of them - look for tunnels in long grass leading up to barbed wire or brambles. You'll often find patches of light brown fur caught on the fence or thorns.
Hares are eaten during the game season. They have an intense, often very gamey flavour and the best known way of cooking them is in Jugged Hare, a casserole which includes blood and sometimes bitter chocolate. But they are protected by the Hare Preservation Act which bans the sale of their meat from 1st March to 31st July during the mating season and, given their uncertain conservation status, if you do plan to eat them, you should only source them from reputable butchers or game dealers
"The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad – at least not so mad as it was in March." – Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.