Integrated hare control

Wild hare in brushy scrub

In Victoria, European hares (Lepus europaeus) are declared as established pest animals under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (CaLP Act).

Under the CaLP Act, all landowners have a responsibility to prevent the spread of, and as far as possible eradicate, established pest animals from their land.

Hares have been pests in Australia since they were released near Westernport Bay in 1862. They are a significant agricultural pest when their numbers reach high densities.

Hares often cause browsing damage to tree plantings and vineyards by gnawing at bark and chewing the stems of young plants.

Hare biology and behaviour

Before designing your hare control program, it is important to understand hare behaviour and ecology:

  • Hares are most active in late afternoon and at night.
  • Unlike rabbits, hares do not shelter in warrens or burrows. They rest in shallow depressions in the ground (forms) near rocks, long grass and logs or branches.
  • Hares can accelerate at high speeds and will often confuse predators by doubling back on its tracks.
  • Hares are primarily herbivores, primarily feeding on leaves, stems and rhizomes of dry and green grasses.
  • Hares may produce more than 4 litters annually, each with 2 to 5 young (leverets). After 3 days, leverets will disperse to find separate hiding locations.

See European hare for more information about their characteristics and behaviour.

Managing hares on your property

Points to remember:

  • Effective hare control is best achieved by using a combination of control measures (not just one) and by working with your neighbours, rather than on individual properties.
  • Be aware native wildlife may share the same habitat as hares. Ensure your hare control program that does not adversely affect native wildlife.
  • If any hare control work is to be undertaken that may result in disturbance of native vegetation, culturally significant areas and waterways, please contact the responsible authorities prior to works being conducted. The responsible authorities may include local government, Agriculture Victoria, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria or the local Registered Aboriginal Party, and the local Catchment Management Authority.
  • If you are planning to use dogs for pest animal control, be mindful that there are specific requirements for the use of dogs for hunting. Under Section 28 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994, a person must not set or urge a dog to attack, bite, rush at or chase any animal except when hunting in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA).

Planning your program

Good planning is essential for maximising the effectiveness of your hare control program, while minimising the impact to other animals. Consider hare density, distribution and the habitat to determine what actions are most appropriate.

The following steps will help in planning:

Work together

The best results are achieved where neighbours work together to control hares across the landscape, rather than just on individual properties. Talk to your neighbours and local Landcare group to work out a plan for coordinated action.

Conduct monitoring

Identify hare feeding and activity areas on your property. Map these areas for future reference. Hares are often found around:

  • rocky outcrops
  • Open fields
  • wood heaps
  • waterways
  • weedy areas.

Assess the number of hares on your property by spotlighting with a powerful torch or spotlight. You may also wish to use remote cameras to determine hare activity on your property. It is also important to consider the potential risks to non-target animals and record them on a map for later reference.

Establish a benchmark of hare numbers and damage on your property before undertaking hare control. This will help measure the success effectiveness of your control programs later.

Use the information you have gained from monitoring to:

  • target your control effort
  • monitor the progress and success of your control program
  • vary and improve your program.

It is important to continue to monitoring hare numbers/damage after your control program has finished on an ongoing basis to detect and so you can treat any re-infestation of your property.

Aim to be hare free

Create a detailed hare management plan that has a specific aim and time-bound objectives. Eradication may not be possible in all areas, so ongoing monitoring and management is often required.

Use all the tools

Effective hare management requires the use of all control tools that are suited to your property. Every hare should be exposed to as many different control tools as possible to ensure those missed with one are accounted for with another. Making your property a hare unfriendly environment will also help prevent re-invasion and population recovery.

Management techniques

Shooting, above ground harbour removal, tree guards and fencing are useful tools for managing the impacts of hares in your property so it is important to include as many of these techniques as suitable in your integrated hare control program

Timing

It is best to implement your hare control program before the peak of their damage.

Evaluate your success

Conduct a monitoring before, during and after your control program.

Consider:

  1. Have you observed hares?
  2. Are you still experiencing damage caused by hares?
  3. Is the impact of hares above or below acceptable thresholds?
  4. What is working well? What could be improved?
  5. Do you need to change your plan? Have you managed all the risks?

Follow up

Continue to monitor hare numbers and damage after your control program. . When you see signs of hare activity again, implement control actions immediately.

Biological control

There are no current biological control agents for the control of hares in Australia. Unlike rabbits, hares are not affected by myxomatosis or rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV1). However, a form of the calicivirus, RHDV2, that is now present in Australia has been confirmed to kill hares.

European Brown Hare Syndrome is a virus specific to hares that is closely related to rabbit haemorrhagic disease (calici virus). This virus affects hare populations in other countries but it has not been detected in Australia.

Above-ground harbour removal

Hare survival is aided where they have ready access to safe haven or shelter. Such harbour may be:

  • heaps of rubbish or debris
  • patches of woody weeds
  • tall grasses and reeds
  • shelter belts or rocks.

Trim under all hedges and thickets of scrub to remove low branches and destroy possible harbour. Keep pastures well grazed.

Remove prickly and woody weeds (such as gorse, boxthorn and blackberries), rubbish piles and old machinery. Fence off rock piles, building materials, hay bales and woodpiles or store them in a manner that does not create a hiding place for hares.

Remember fallen timber may provide harbour for hares and habitat for native wildlife. If you are planning to remove fallen timber, you must ensure that you do not affect native wildlife.

Exclusion fencingWire Mesh fencing diagram. 105x4cmx1.4mm netting, 18cm of netting buried under soil, 6cm of netting between ground and 1st fence wire, 45.5cm of netting between 1st and 2nd fence wire, 35.5cm between 2nd and 3rd fence wire

Exclusion fencing involves constructing a fence around hare sensitive areas on your property such as:

  • shelterbelts
  • revegetation sites
  • crops
  • gardens.

Ask for 'rabbit proof fencing' when sourcing fencing materials.

A minimum of 17cm of the fencing wire netting is buried in the ground, or the lower section of the wire netting is angled to lie on the ground facing in the direction of possible hare entry. The wire must be held down securely with pegs, rocks or timber. The remainder of the mesh must be securely fixed to a suitable support fence so that it reaches a minimum of 88cm above ground.

Hare-proof fencing is expensive. It requires regular maintenance to ensure there are no gaps. With proper maintenance fences should last up to 20 years.

One consequence of such fences is that the movement of some native animals may be limited.

Minimum specifications

  • Use standard rabbit netting that is 105cm width 4cm mesh diameter × 1.4mm wire diameter.
  • Make sure support fence is able to withstand stock or native animal forces.
  • Ensure that rabbit netting is fixed so that it reaches at least 88cm above the ground.
  • Where netting is buried, it must be buried to a minimum of 170mm.
  • Where netting is bent to lay on the ground surface, it must be held down with pegs, rocks or timber.
  • There should be suitable rabbit/hare-proof gates at all breaks in the fence.

General support fencing needs

  • Use sturdy posts driven at least 45cm into the ground (either rammed or dug in).
  • Spacing between posts and star pickets should be determined by soil type, topography and required strength of the fence.
  • It is best to have fences erected by experienced or professional fencers.

Exclusion fencing will help to reduce damage to sensitive areas by deterring hares, but hares have been known to occasionally climb fences.

Ute in the dark shining a spotlightShooting

Shooting is a target-specific and humane form of hare control. Night-time shooting of hares with the aid of a spotlight is the most effective. It is labour intensive but is an effective management tool when implemented as part of an integrated pest management program.

Due to the highly mobile nature of hares, shooting will be most effective when implemented at the landscape scale in coordination with neighbouring land holders.

The use of firearms to control hares must conform to relevant firearm legislation and be integrated with other control methods.

Other management techniques

Tree guardsYoung sapling protected by green netting

  • Tree guards are essential when planting in hare-prone areas. Generally larger and stronger tree guards will provide the best protection to young plants.
  • It may be more cost-effective when planting large areas to hare-proof fence the whole site and remove all hares inside the fenced area prior to planting.
  • Hares have a habit of grazing along a line of trees, crops or fence lines. When conducting planting activities, you may wish to stagger your rows and leave regular gaps along rows. This pattern of planting can deter a hare from grazing along the whole length of the revegetation area by interrupting its preferred feeding habits.

Repellents

  • Chemical repellents are designed to reduce herbivore grazing by imitating the smell of a predator or making the plant unpalatable. The repellents are placed on plant surface or around the base of plants. Repellents are designed to give short-term protection during critical stages of growth.
  • There are a number of commercial chemical repellents available. Consult your local horticulturalist and check the product label to ensure that a repellent is suitable for your intended use.

Trapping

  • Trapping is not a cost-effective hare control technique, as it is labour intensive.
  • Any trapping of hares must be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA) and associated regulations.
  • Trapping has several animal welfare implications and anyone considering trapping should read important further information about traps.

Image credits

Figure 1 courtesy of Phil Stott

Page last updated: 26 Apr 2022