Nick Acheson: In defense of Norfolk’s hares

PUBLISHED: 14:52 20 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:52 20 March 2020

Brown hare, Lepus europaeus, in ox-eye daisies (photo: David Tipling)

Brown hare, Lepus europaeus, in ox-eye daisies (photo: David Tipling)

David Tipling / 2020VISION

Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Nick Acheson puts right an unintended slight

I’ve written this column for six years now. In all that time, to the best of my knowledge, I have never, in a more than tangential way, written about hares. There’s a reason for this slight to Norfolk’s long-eared lopers, and it is not that I hold hares in contempt.

I have loved hares all my life. I grew up cycling round a disused airfield in North Norfolk, where the light soil – sand abandoned here by an ice sheet – was beloved of hares. I never went there without seeing them, powering away on spring-loaded legs or whirling like – well – like Mad March Hares through late winter fields of cereals and rape.

No, my reluctance stems not from any lack of love for hares. Rather it arises from snobbery. In recent years, though the raw power and mythology of hares are still wonderfully interpreted by writers such as John Lewis-Stempel and artists including Norfolk’s own Harriet Mead, hares have slipped into a schmaltzy popular interpretation in which, with big, doe eyes (utterly unlike the beads of jasper with which the real animals perceive and defy the world), and trowel ears, they sell greetings cards and cushions.

For this reason, I have disdained them. I have done the brown hare a grave disservice, though, for it is no less heroic in our fields, no less lithe or muscled in reality, for all its twee depiction on mugs and calendars. All this time I have worshipped hares in our Norfolk fields but have refused to write about them, for fear of jumping on the doe-eyed bandwagon.

Enough! If Harriet can wring scrap metal into the wild sinews of hares, and capture their bold eyes with a bolt, I must try to render their tameless magnificence with my weakling words. So in March I go to the fields, to leave behind the dulled hares of cushions and mugs, and find the real beast, blood and hormones pulsing through its veins, and the stern wind tousling its grizzled fur.

Brown Hare Lepus europaeus Norfolk spring (photo: David Tipling)Brown Hare Lepus europaeus Norfolk spring (photo: David Tipling)

That fur, black-ticked and caramel-based, which hangs about the resting animal, giving it a block-like form. That fickle fur, which vanishes when once the hare moves, in lust or fear, leaving only muscle, bone and ligament exposed, if not to the eye, to the heart’s eye at least.

For a hare is a being of motion. A kinetic creature, even when cloaked in its fur and lying like a lumpen sod in a winter field. Like Matisse’s dancers, hares in spring are wildly jigging things. But unlike them, hares dance in fury, not in love, the females thumping males whose suits they would rebuff, twisting, turning, writhing in their rage as male after male approaches them.

As for these splendid she-hares, fur and flesh hunkered in our wind-billowed fields of winter wheat, if they have accepted a male’s advance and let him mate, now in spring they birth their two-three-four pathetic leverets on the Norfolk earth which will be their life’s home.

Here they stay, as good as orphans, for a month. All this time, outwitting the keen nose of the fox, the dams visit just once a day to suckle them. Alone the leverets grow, wild, unbent to any other’s whim or will.

Boxing Hares by Harriet Mead (photo: Jody Lawrence)Boxing Hares by Harriet Mead (photo: Jody Lawrence)

In Norfolk we are blessed with hares.

All across the sandy soils of North Norfolk and down the west they are common, and the inky tips of their ears poke through crops in the rest of Norfolk too. Their brittle whiskers quiver - in anger or alarm – right across the lovely county we too call home. We should be proud to live with them, proud to hold them, not on our pillows and mugs, but in our hearts, these fizzing, exuberant crackers of life.

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There – brown hares – my retribution’s done. I’ve tried to pay the debt I owed to your wild kind. Bless us this spring with your writhing leap, bless us with your tumbling fights and rage-swung ears. Bless us with your presence in Norfolk’s landscape always. For we need the wild and you.

About the artist

Harriet Mead creates her stunning artworks from metal, almost exclusively using old farm and hand tools welded together.

“I used to work a lot in sheet metals, said Harriet, “But for the last 15 years or so it has been all found objects.

“I’m pleased it’s recycling things; you can create amazing, inspiring art with welding.”

Her work is enormously popular – her current commissions order book stretches for years. “I had someone waiting seven years for a puffin!” she laughs.

As much of her work is commissioned her wildlife and animal creations dictate the direction she travels when looking at raw materials. Sometimes, though, the objects themselves set the theme.

Harriet had a large collection of scythes and sickles; their elegant curves and form spoke to her of the swifts whose arcing flights grace the Norfolk skies and so a series of three sculptures emerged from those old blades.

She also created a hobby from them, a bird of prey with beak and talons as sharp as a sickle.

Some of her works are more substantial; she was responsible for the mighty trinity of beasts – Suffolk heavy horse, redpoll bull and Suffolk ram – which welcome visitors to the Trinity Park showground in Ipswich and among her most recent works is a life-sized female roe deer.

See more of Harriet’s work at and on her Facebook page.

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