The sight of an albino brown hare is extremely rare in the UK as their striking white colouring makes them easy prey for foxes and other predators before they are fully grown.

But one lucky individual – who has made it to adulthood – was spotted on farmland in Hampshire and captured on camera by Peter Thompson, farmland biodiversity adviser for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The Trust said albino brown hares seldom survive past the leveret, or young, stage, because their colouring makes them too vulnerable to predators.

And while albinos are an almost unique sight, brown hares in general are struggling in the face of too many predators and the loss of mixed farming, the Trust said.

Brown hare numbers have declined by three-quarters (75 per cent) since the 1960s, and have been targeted for conservation action under the UK biodiversity action plan.

The GWCT said many predators are more abundant, including foxes which prey on leverets and can eat all the young of a local population, while the loss of mixed farming has removed ideal year-round food and shelter.

And the end of the EU “set-aside” scheme, which paid farmers to leave land fallow, two years ago also caused concern for the Trust as the practice benefited brown hares.

But it is hoped the voluntary Campaign for the Farmed Environment, which is backed by the Trust and encourages farmers to put in measures to replace set-aside, will boost hare numbers if enough landowners get involved.

The Trust has also produced a free practical guide for land managers and farmers, outlining the ways they can help the survival of brown hares.

According to monitoring by the Trust, brown hares have, in some places, already responded well to methods of land management which help wildlife, but in other areas they are still in decline.

Mr Thompson said the last survey of hares showed wintering numbers had fallen to 800,000 animals, while the conservation action plan proposes that the country should be able to support around two million.

Recent records from the Trust suggested the UK was halfway to meeting that target – but success was patchy across the country.

He said: “In the eastern side of the country, including Yorkshire, they are doing particularly well; however, in the western side of the country they are still showing a worrying decline.”

He continued: “There is little doubt that set-aside benefited brown hares and we were concerned its removal would be disastrous.

“But the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, which is encouraging farmers to put in place voluntary measures to replace set-aside, could mitigate this loss and boost hare numbers if more farmers get involved in the campaign, particularly in areas where numbers are low.”

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