Here are the locations where you might find one of these illusive, white creatures in the wilds of the Peak District and Scotland.
World Snow Day is Sunday 21 Jan 2024, created by the International Ski Federation (FIS) to encourage more children to get into skiing and snowboarding after their research showed a drop in participation in snow-related activities. While opportunities for outdoor skiing and snowboarding are somewhat limited in the UK, the current cold snap might give you the chance you need to get out for a winter walk, snow shoe or ski day this weekend. And what better encouragement than a hunt for a bright, white snow hare amongst that glittering winter world.
In the latest issue of Summit magazine (out now for members) we have a fantastic feature about these illusive bunnies from Yvonne Reddick and Aleks Domanski who have made a film about Yvonne’s search for them over the last six years. “Mountain hares (also known as snow hares) are Britain’s only true arctic-Alpine animal,” says Yvonne. “They were here before any other species of hare or rabbit. Unlike their lowland cousins, brown hares, mountain hares are uniquely adapted to harsh winters. As the days shorten and the cold sets in, they turn brilliant white. They were once thought to change colour by eating snow. We now know that light and temperature are the cues for them to produce fur with less pigment. With large snowshoe feet and small ears that conserve heat, mountain hares are true snow bunnies.
“England’s largest remaining population of mountain hares lives in the Peak District. I’d walk past their trails that crisscross Kinder Scout, but it was years before I spotted one, as I hiked across a moor one December. It came rocketing out of a tussock of heather, starkly white against the brown moorland.
“The Cairngorms are the closest the Highlands come to the High Arctic. Every day on family holidays there, I’d get up before dawn, haul my heavy winter boots on, and trudge up through the snow and ice to look for hares. Signs of hares were everywhere: prints and droppings around the car park, in the Mountain Garden, on the road that leads to the pistes. I finally spotted one sitting by a granite outcrop, invisible in its white camouflage. It was one of the most beautiful animals I’d ever seen. It was like seeing a creature from an Ice Age.
“But the climate is changing. The snow sets in later; the thaw arrives earlier. Any climber or skier can tell you that the snow and ice are unpredictable. Less snow means unreliable conditions for people who enjoy outdoor sports. And it also means less cover for mountain hares in their white winter coats. If you’re a predator like a golden eagle or a raven, a mountain hare makes a much-needed meal.
“By 2080, there will be some years with very little or no snow in the Cairngorms. England’s mountain hares face extinction if their habitat is not restored. I think of all the threats the mountain hare faces - foxes, eagles and owls; the A57 road also known as Snake Pass; possible illegal shooting and our warming weather. That ghostly white coat is a haunting reminder of a vanished climate. Can they adapt? Will future generations of mountain hares remain brown all year? I always want the mountains to be a place for snow hares.”
Yvonne Reddick is a Manchester-based writer, researcher and keen hiker and climber. She has spent her career researching authors who were also environmental activists. She loves living so close to the Peak District hills and their amazing wildlife: owls and foxes, curlews and her favourite, the mountain hare. Aleksander Domanski is a conservation filmmaker, biologist and photographer with a PhD in animal cognition. He shares his love for the natural world and raises awareness for the conservation of biodiversity through his film work.
Together, Yvonne and Aleks have been documenting these snow-loving creatures in a film that was shortlisted for the BMC’s Women in Adventure Award, watch it here:
Top 5 places to see snow hares
“We can’t give away exact locations as we don’t want to scare them,” says filmmaker Yvonne Reddick, “but here are the top five places where you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a snow hare on your hiking or climbing trips this winter.”
Dark Peak moorlands, Peak District
Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire
Drumochter Hills, Perth and Kinross
Cairngorm Mountain, Aviemore
Divis and the Black Mountain, N.Ireland
How we can help
The BMC’s Climate Project in partnership with Moors for the Future helps to protect the snow hares’ habitat and sequester more carbon. “Come and help create more moor by donating or planting sphagnum moss in the Peak District,” says the BMC’s Access and Conservation Officer Dr. Cath Flitcroft “Just £25 plants one square metre and so far we have raised over £30,000 which will restore 1,200 square metres. Sign up to volunteer on our next planting day here.