Hares do not live in burrows but permanently above ground, relying on vegetation for food and shelter. This makes them extremely vulnerable to disturbance. Farming accounts for around 70% of land use in Ireland (80% in Northern Ireland) making it a major factor in the welfare and survival of the Irish hare. It is no coincidence that agriculture has become more intensive during this period of decline in hare numbers. Increasingly mechanised and frequent grass-cutting for silage is widely believed to be directly responsible for the deaths of leverets, hidden in the long grass by their mothers.
Land ‘improvement’ has replaced the hare’s species-rich habitat with commercial grass varieties. Increased production methods have also led to the removal of traditional cover such as hedgerows and moorland, leaving hares exposed and vulnerable. Overstocking and overgrazing has increased disturbance and competition for feeding. Low levels of vegetation also rob the hare of the cover on which it relies for shelter and safety.
The widespread use of herbicides and the application of slurry reduces the prevalence of species-rich grasses on which Irish hares feed. Hares are susceptible to ingesting herbicides because they are attracted to areas, such as rushes, that are targeted for application. These fastidious animals then groom themselves, ingesting the toxic chemicals. Paraquat (Gramoxone) is known to be lethal to hares.