A new book has been released this autumn, chronicling the captivating lives of one of Britain’s most recognisable native species. My Year with Hares records one man’s amazing year-long obsession with this fascinating animal, from his addiction to finding and photographing them through the seasons, to rearing a rescued leveret.
The book’s author is one Martin Hayward Smith, a professional wildlife cameraman and photographer, who has travelled the world extensively for the BBC and Discovery, among many other companies. Ray and Martin first worked together during the filming for Ray’s Wild Britain series, and it was this chance meeting that ultimately led to Ray writing the foreword to Martin’s beautiful book.
Read on for Ray’s foreword in its entirety, along with a selection of Martin’s images, taken from My Year with Hares:
If you want to see wildlife you need to dress warmly and in colours that blend in with your surroundings. Then go outdoors when others are indoors and sit perfectly still. Remain perfectly still even if it involves suffering.
Some years ago I was sitting under an isolated oak tree in a frosty stubble barley field atop a Perthshire hill. Cloaked in the long morning shadow of the tree I was invisible, motionless, mentally defying the bone-penetrating chill. The first rays of the morning sun were doing nothing to warm my body, but they did lift my spirits as I enjoyed each broken stem of barley receiving a lick of scarlet light. Now cold can make you sleep, and just as I felt my grip on wakefulness slipping I was jolted to alertness by the passing of a buzzard right in front of me, only a metre above the ground, so close in fact that I could both hear and feel the passage of the draft from its wings. These are the moments those of us in love with nature live for, but on this particular morning the buzzard was but a herald for a more impressive player about to appear.
In front of me was a game trail passing towards me from my left front and behind me to my right rear. Just as the buzzard had passed a tiny movement drew my attention to the vanishing point of the game trail ahead of me. Slowly, so as to be invisible, I brought my 8×32’s to my eyes. Now I could make out what the strange movement was, it was a pair of tall ears coming straight towards me, the ears of a Brown Hare. Almost as soon as my mind deciphered the movement, the animal’s head and then body came into view hurrying towards me on his secret mission. From my vantage point I realised that where the trail vanished there was a slope, consequently the hare was emerging from the shadow of dead ground into the beautiful sunlight. As the hare crested the hill he stopped and surveyed his territory. Now in full sight I had the most glorious view of this remarkable creature. Bathed now from ear tip to toe in golden warmth, his chest puffed out and his hairs responding to a breeze so gentle that I had been unaware of it. If at that moment you had told me that this was the king of all the hares I would have believed it.
As the hare looked around I was struck by the golden translucency of his eye. After a long moment he resumed his regal progress passing within touching distance of me. Amongst our native wildlife the hare is special, imbued in some strange way with a greater measure of wildness than others creatures. I love watching them and when they watch me, I sense their intelligence and the ancient heritage of their wisdom.
My Year with Hares captures beautifully the spirit of the hare and the dedication of Martin Hayward Smith, a remarkable naturalist and wildlife cameraman – who you can be certain has sat still and suffered for his art. It is a privilege to write this foreword and rather fitting, as in many ways it was a hare that first provided me with the opportunity to work alongside Martin.
Particularly in the early spring, hares can be called up by mimicking the squeak of an injured leveret. Employing this trick while filming for the first series of ITV’s Wild Britain, I called to a Suffolk hare four hundred metres away. Responding to instinct the hare raced straight to me, stopping only five metres away. Sadly the cameraman of the day failed to capture the event. Not because of any lack of skill but because he was not a naturalist and did not realise what was about to happen. Consequently in the next season I was fortunate to be teamed with two wildlife cameramen, including Martin. If I am honest I was a little dubious; so frequently TV exaggerates claims of expertise. But from the moment I first watched Martin take quietly to the shadows of a hedgerow with his camera I realised the depth of his experience and great fieldcraft. Moreover he has that special something; nature responds to him, so evident one morning on the Isle of Wight when a Stoat dashed up to him bearing the gift of a dead Rabbit, all of course captured on camera.
This book is Martin’s tribute to the Brown Hare, but more it stands as testimony to both his skill and his hopeless love for nature. But then why not, for none of the world’s riches can compare with the wealth that comes from allowing nature so deeply into your life.
– Ray Mears, 2014
Signed copies of My Year with Hares are available to purchase here.