They're sometimes confused with rabbits but are really very different creatures. They have longer ears with black tips, intense amber eyes (perhaps one source of the many folk stories about them), and long, powerful hind legs. When hares run they hold their tails down, whereas rabbits hold up their tails showing their white bobtails. Hares can run incredibly fast - up to 45 miles an hour over short distances.
Hares live above ground without burrows and create shallow depressions or 'forms' in grass to give birth to their young leverets.
We're fortunate to be able to often spot brown hares in the Yorkshire Dales but their numbers are decreasing nationwide, partly due to intensive farming practices and the loss of so many hay meadows. They're the only game species in Britain without a closed season for shooting so the Hare Preservation Trust are campaigning for better protection for hares.
When I started to look into the origin of hares' magical powers, I was amazed at the number of worldwide folk stories that feature them. I can't think of any other creature which has such contrasting tales told about them. Sometimes the stories tell of the hare's trickery and wickedness, others hold the hare in high esteem as goddesses, fertility symbols and special messengers. They're often associated with the moon, with witchcraft and shape-shifting.
There's a poem from the middle ages which gives over 70 different names for the hare: the jumper, racer, rascal, nibbler, funk-the-ditch, ill-met, dew-flirt, home-late, starer, skulker, frisky legs, race-the-wind, scare-them-man, faith-breaker and scoundrel among them. These names are said to have been used to avoid actually naming the hare because they could inflict evil.
Thankfully most people now seem to see the hare much more positively. In Germany easter eggs are brought by the "Osterhase", and Easter hare instead of a bunny. Hares feature in the work of many Yorkshire Dales artists including Stacey Moore, Nolon Stacey and Hester Cox.