Hare today, gone tomorrow…

Bowdleflode News No. 40 – September 2021
Baby rhino following its mother through the bush with it nose millimetres from her back leg.

A British brown hare in the field

In the UK, fears have grown that a form of myxomatosis has jumped from rabbits, resulting in more than 1,100 hares having been recorded as dying of a new “viral cocktail” since 2018. The public are being urged to report dying or dead hares to scientists who are looking to discover the cause of so many unexplained deaths in the hare population, with a spike in sickness occurring each autumn.

The brown hare has long inspired a rich vein of folklore and poetry since arriving in Britain in or before Roman times, but numbers have fallen by an estimated 80% over the last century. A “viral cocktail” of several deadly new diseases has pushed the hare population in Britain and Ireland to the brink, alongside other pressures, including illegal hare-coursing and habitat loss.

Some hares have been reported with closed eyes and swollen heads, but others are dying with dilated pupils and eyes wide open. Most hares will die out of sight, so scientists are desperate to get more bodies for veterinary pathologists to carry out more accurate postmortems.

Many hares in Britain also appear to be dying from a version of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2), which has decimated the wild rabbit population since emerging from commercial rabbit farms in northern France in 2010. The first cases of hares dying from RHDV2 in Britain were confirmed in 2019. In Spain and Portugal, Iberian hares have been found with symptoms of myxomatosis and diagnosed with a deadly new myxoma virus named MYXV Toledo.

There has been an increase of dangerous viruses emerging from live animal markets and the industrial farming of wild species, which could potentially jump to other species and, ultimately, humans – a new strain of avian flu was this year found in poultry workers in Russia. What the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted is how little we know about the diseases that are already present in our wildlife.

Brown hare on frosty ground, UK

Mass gathering of spider crabs in Falmouth

Spider crabs near Falmouth, Cornwall, UK

Thousands of spider crabs have been spotted in a mass gathering off the coast of Cornwall, in Falmouth.  The gathering of male crabs was filmed in knee-deep water, a few metres from the beach at low tide.

The annual display happens because the crabs rally together to protect themselves while moulting. Mass aggregations happen between late summer and early autumn when the crabs crack open their exoskeletons and grow a new outer shell.

Filmed by Conservation Officer, Matt Slater, for Cornwall Wildlife Trust commented what a truly incredible sight and experience it was – “Our seas are full of surprises – most locals would have no idea that one of the world’s great wildlife aggregations is occurring not too far from where they sleep. It goes to show how important our Cornish seas are and why we all need to look after them better.”

Spider crabs are a common species with long spiny legs and claws, and are known in Cornish waters. They have particularly thrived in recent years due to climate change and warming sea temperatures. It is hoped that this mass sighting is a sign that spider crab populations are healthy and not a one-off.

Iconic Sussex Landmark now owned by South Downs National Park

Baby rhino following its mother through the bush with it nose millimetres from her back leg.

The Seven Sisters looking from the west

Ownership of the landmark 280-hectare Seven Sisters site has been transferred to the South Downs National Park Authority.  The Park authorities have promised to improve wildlife habitats along the famous chalk cliffs.

Nearly £2m will be spent on improvements, including a refurbished visitor centre.  Careful landscape management is hoped to improve the chalk grassland, grazing marsh and wet meadows to improve habitats for “important native species”.

The Authority said seven key species – the adonis blue butterfly, skylark, redshank, yellow horned poppy, ringed plover, bee orchid and wigeon – were “indicators of biodiversity and landscape quality”.

The transfer will ensure the iconic Sussex beauty spot remains in public hands.  The first “writer in residence” has been named as Alinah Azadeh, and will be exploring themes of diversity, climate and resilience in the post until the end of 2022.  The project, which is supported by Arts Council England, will include writers retreats, writing workshops and live events.

The site was previously owned by East Sussex County Council.

A Blue Adonis butterfly – they seem to love the Seven Sisters

Bowdleflode of the Month

Meet… DOGLE!


Created by Mia, aged 9.

Mia describes her creation as:

“An amphibian with a fluffy head, hard shell, rubbery tail and short soft legs.  Face of an African dog, body of a turtle, tiger feet and a whale tail.  They eat meat and leaves and live in the rainforest.  Dogle is very playful, much like a puppy.”

Thank you Mia for your wonderful new addition to Bowdleflode Safari! ? ?