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Diana Bell avatar
Diana Bell

What is killing UK hares?

Research into the causes of UK-wide hare deaths for University of East Anglia because of the impact on species and ecosystems.

19 %
£23,812
raised of £120,000 target
by 69 supporters
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University of East Anglia

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Thank you for taking the time to visit our JustGiving appeal to help support research into the causes of current high mortalities in the UK European brown hare population.

I am a conservation biologist with eclectic research interests mainly at interdisciplinary boundaries. I have worked on emerging zoonotic diseases such as SARS, HPAI H5N1 and Ebola in addition to the impact of new pathogens of biodiversity loss.  My UK research has included long-term studies of parasites/diseases affecting the European wild rabbit to help inform efforts to restore populations of this keystone ecosystem engineer and prey item into rabbit-dependent ecosystems both here and on the Iberian peninsular where it originally evolved. It is through this research that I was first contacted by members of the public about high mortalities in the European brown hare last September.

After raising awareness of these hare deaths in tv, radio and other media outlets we have received over 750 location reports of dead/dying hares from the public across the UK from northern Scotland to the Kent coast and from East Anglia to Devon and Wales.

This has been a great example of ‘citizen science’ and has highlighted how passionate people are about this charismatic mammal. I have been employing a research assistant to compile/map a database of  relevant information about these deaths and a gamekeeper has driven over 13000 miles around the UK collecting carcasses for post-mortem and engage with rural communities. We have already confirmed one cause as the jump of the recently discovered (2010) Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) from rabbits to hares in the UK as it has on continental Europe. Indeed RHDV2 has now been reported in at least four other hare species across Europe including the Mountain hare and our fear is that many/all 35 of the other Lepus (hare) species worldwide may be susceptible. This would be disastrous globally for both hares and the ecosystems in which they play an important role for example as grazers and prey species.

We could not have envisaged the scale of these mortalities nine months ago and urgently need help to maintain and map their distribution, collect and store bodies securely, and provide diagnostic testing (both post mortem examinations and molecular tests), the latter through strong collaborations with colleagues at the University of Cambridge.  This will allow us to identify any other pathogens circulating and understand the epidemiology of these and RHDV2.

This information is crucial to inform long-term efforts to conserve our hares which have already shown a marked decline in many parts of the country.

This is collaborative citizen science research in which people across the UK are playing a crucial role and we give them enormous thanks.

Bell D.,
Davis,J. P.,
Gardner, M., Barlow, A. M., Rocchi, M., Gentil, M. & Wilson, R. J., 25 Jan 2019In : Veterinary Record. 1844p. 127-128 Rabbit haemorrhage disease virus type 2 in hares in Scotland Rocchi M., Maley M., Dagleish M. & Boag B. 6 July 2019, in: Veterinary Record 185, 1 p. 23

Photo credit: With thanks to Avril Pierssene and M.Ellis 




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