The Irish hare is at risk of being driven into extinction within the coming decades unless firm action is taken to stop the invading European hares from breeding.
Researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast have warned that the Irish hare is being threatened by the European or brown hare, which is prevalent in mid-Ulster and west Tyrone.
“In March 2011 the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to outlaw hare coursing in Northern Ireland to protect the future of the Irish hare. But our native hare remains vulnerable to another serious threat — that of the invading European hare,” said Dr Neil Reid from Quercus, Queen’s University’s Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, told the Belfast Telegraph.
“European hares are found in Britain and continental Europe, but they have been highly successful in invading many countries beyond their native range in south-west Europe and parts of Asia. There have been many studies on their impact on native species.”
After closely reviewing studies it was revealed that the European hares are in strong competition for habitat, space and food resources.
“The Irish hare represents an evolutionary unique lineage, which is restricted to Ireland where it has been present since before the last glacial maximum, making it one of our few native mammal species,” Dr Reid said.
“Hence, it has been isolated for 30,000-60,000 years.
“So the discovery that both species are hybridising in the wild is very worrying.
“In my opinion, what is needed is some kind of trial cull or intervention to take out the European hares and see whether they repopulate,” he added.
For further information on the hare research, visit www.quercus.ac.uk