Researchers find hares dying from disease normally found in rabbits

Brown Hare

Research led by the University of East Anglia has found the first confirmed cases of rabbit virus in UK hares.

Brown hares that died from rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) have been found in Essex and Dorset. They're the first cases in the UK although brown hares have died in Europe from the disease.

RHDV2 normally affects rabbits, but the disease is known to have jumped to European brown hares in Italy, Spain, France and Australia.

This is the first time that RHDV2 has been found in hares in the UK.

RHDV2 is one of several pathogens we are finding in dead hares and it is too early to say which is currently the primary cause of the hare die-off. We are continuing to investigate other causes for the deaths.

– Lead researcher Dr Diana Bell, from UEA's School of Biological Sciences
Brown Hares

Nationally, brown hares have experienced a decline of more than 80 per cent over the past century due to changes in agricultural practice. The intensification of agriculture has limited their supply of food and habitat.

But concerns about new diseases were raised after landowners, farmers and other members of the public started reporting sightings of obviously sick and dead hares in September 2018.