The Trust’s Dr Stephen Tapper says: “The government’s Biodiversity Action Plan proposes that by 2010 our countryside should support at least two million in winter. Looking at recent bag records it appears we might be halfway to achieving the biodiversity target, but there is little doubt that set-aside has benefited the brown hares, and we suspect that numbers of farmland birds and mammals which had stabilised or increased over the last decade, including brown hares, could begin to fall again… the loss of set-aside might have an adverse affect.”

Dr Tapper’s concerns are echoed by the RSPB’s Gareth Morgan, head of agriculture policy: “We are extremely worried about what this means for wildlife, especially as the European Commission has failed to put a realistic proposal on the table for anything to replace the wildlife benefits of set-aside.”

The GWCT has produced a practical guide for farmers and landowners entitled Conserving the Brown Hare. To obtain a free copy call Jane Bushnell on 01425 651060 or email jbushnell@gct.org.uk