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Keywords:

  • agri-environment schemes;
  • field margins;
  • mammals;
  • brown hare;
  • Lepus

Abstract

Habitat improvements through agri-environment schemes are the most important tool for reversing biodiversity declines in European farmland. However, little is known about their impact on mammals, including the brown hare, a priority species for conservation in the UK. We studied radio-collared hares for 13 months in a mixed agricultural area using ‘homing in’ to provide high spatial-resolution fixes. Hares selected agri-environment field margins during both active and inactive periods and used the areas in the middle of large fields less frequently than those closer to the field boundaries. Blocks of woods and lines of trees were selected as resting sites while sheep-grazed fields were generally avoided throughout the year. We suggest that agri-environment schemes targeted at creating and increasing non-farmed habitat features associated with field boundaries and reducing sward depletion through less intensive or mixed grazing regimes could prove beneficial for populations of this priority species in farmland.