|reproduced with kind permission from Jackie Morris|
Not only do people come here to admire the sunsets and snowbuntings. But also to course hares. At night. The 'sport' is to send dogs chasing hares across the fields. Once killed, the hares are strung up on the barbed wire at field gates as trophies.
With March coming, we'll feel the resulting decline even more keenly than we have during the winter months when often they'll hop out of the dykes onto the road to zig-zag in front of the headlights, partly to confuse the preditor, and partly due to being dazzled by the beam.
One of the calls of spring is their running ragged circles around and around the fields, across the saltmarsh, chasing each other like kids. They run so closely, tagging tails, almost, I've mistaken them for labradors, seemingly so large. And of course the more famous image is of them on their hind legs, rearing up to a height of a small child, boxing.
They're a popular subject for paintings. Symbol of our meagre wild. But art rarely captures the lean energy of the creature: their scrawny bodies, wide ears, and that lope of theirs when they're poking about the fields. Their image is often domesticated, made more cuddly than they are. By far my favourite artist of hares is Jackie Morris, above). Part deer, part fox, solitary and metamorphosing colour through the year, hares have a mythological quality. More often than not, these portraits sadden me: sport three - art nil.
The hares around here, I'm told, are unusually large for brown hares. The exposed flatlands perhaps necessitate a tougher build. When not playing centre field, they keep to the dykes and hedgerows, warmer, sheltered lines. Despite being able to run upto 45mph, their young are more exposed to machinery and digs because they nest above ground. Plus their reaction to danger is to freeze.
The salt marsh is the safest place for them. No one would want to set their dogs chasing across their with its irregular sump holes that could so easily break a foreleg, or two. Their colour matches the grasses perfectly. And the tufted scape means their silhouettes are not so obvious. At least to human eye.
Apparently the hunters come from Manchester and Barrow, this being one of the last places around the NW to find so many hares. What really irritates me is how stupid these coursers are. Not only in an ecological sense, but for the sustainability of their own pleasure. Erradicate the hares over their ability to reproduce and bang goes that entertainment. The farmers don't like the hare coursers because of the danger to their cattle – startled, the cows and sheep can easily fall into a dyke to drown. £1000 lost per cow (the police have a rural officer dedicated to overseeing the area, contactable on 101).
Late last summer a guy knocked at the door, asking who the landowner was here. I told him various farmers and asked why. He was from Manchester and had a marsh harrier he liked to exercise by picking off unwanted rabbits. He was about three weeks too late for our infestation (either a fox or mixy had beaten him to it). I haven't seen him again and suspect he didn't meet with much luck – either permission-wise or rabbits.
Just last week we met a hunt on the lane. A pack of about 20-30 dogs and the same number of huntsmen/women. Red jackets, black boots, whips, the lot. Lambing time seems a odd time to allow a hunt on the fields round here. They said they were 'scent-hunting'. I didn't ask (I should have) how they controlled the dogs to divert once the scent grew strong and close. How can they?
It's the first hunt seen around here within the living memory of my neighbour Ralph, who's lived here for 88 years. I hope it'll be at least another 88 before they're back. Blatent or shady, I don't know which hunt is worse.