Numbers of Irish hares have continued to decline dramatically within the last 30 years resulting in dangerously low population levels. The graph above uses the valid time-series data from surveys carried out in Northern Ireland between 2004 and 2010.
This time-series data suggest Irish hare population cycles every three years with a clear overall downward temporal trend. After taking account of these cycles, the Irish hare population in Northern Ireland exhibits a net decline of approximately 25% every three years.
This independent assessment of the data is disputed by the the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and Quercus, who conducted the surveys.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency would claim that the Irish hare population in Northern Ireland doubled between 2002 and 2010. However, the report commissioned by the agency said ‘there was no evidence for any discernable temporal trend in hare abundance from 2002 to 2010’.
The Irish Hare Initiative believes that the available time-series data show clear evidence of a long term and on-going pattern of decline in Irish hare numbers.
This is supported by the anecdotal evidence. People who live in rural areas report that hare numbers are only a fraction of what they once were, often reporting local extinction of the species. The Irish hare population is fragmented.
These local populations are susceptible to systematic depletion, and their disappearance constitutes a threat to the whole species.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has now effectively abandoned the Irish hare as the agency claims that the target of doubling the population by 2010, set out in the Irish Hare Species Action Plan, has been achieved.
The annual hare surveys, which are essential for monitoring population decline and providing a better understanding of the cyclical nature of the species dynamics, have also been terminated.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s assertion that the Irish hare population was stable or increasing, strongly influenced the Northern Ireland Assembly’s decision not to grant the Irish hare protected species status.
For the Irish hare, the future looks grim