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.

Under the 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 biology and behaviour:

  • 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 are easily stressed, panicked or traumatised. They 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

Be aware native wildlife may share the same habitat as hares. Ensure your hare control program that does not adversely affect native wildlife.

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 can maximise the effectiveness of hare control while minimising damage to other animals. Consider hare density, distribution and the habitat in which they are living because this will determine which actions are most appropriate. The following steps will help in planning:

Work together

Coordinate your control work with your neighbours. The best results are achieved where neighbours implement simultaneous control over a large area, rather than just on individual properties. Work on your property can also be undermined by the inactivity of your neighbours, so talk to your neighbours and local Landcare group to work out a plan for coordinated action.

Use all the tools

It's rare for any single technique to provide effective long-term control. Therefore, control programs should be planned in advance and wherever possible they should include a variety of techniques such as harbour removal, shooting and fencing.

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 on an ongoing basis. Act as soon as you see signs of hare activity. Hare control must be ongoing to minimise re-infestation.

Biological control

There are no current biological control agents 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: 27 May 2021