Nida Al-Fulaij, grants manager at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “The Peak District’s altitude and colder climate is ideal habitat for mountain hares, who have adapted perfectly.
“But, with the onset warmer and more erratic weather, these hares could be in trouble.”
“We can’t let them die out,” she added.
The trust hopes the study’s findings – due to be published later in the year – will help guide successful reintroductions of the “shy, but striking” species, as well as safeguarding those that are left.
Carlos Bedson, a biologist from Manchester Metropolitan University who is leading the research said: “Mountain hares are effectively an ice age Arctic animal and it is a privilege to be able to see one in England, surviving here at lower latitudes.
“We are so lucky to have them.”
He added it was amazing to think that “in normal times”, “you could be working on a Friday in your office or school or factory, and then on the Saturday you could drive to the Peak District and go out and have an Arctic wildlife exploration experience all of your own”.
Mountain hares, a sister species to the Arctic hare, had died out in England during the last ice age yet survived in Scotland.
Landowners in the 1870s attempted to reintroduce them to England yet were mostly unsuccessful.
Only those released into the Peak District survived.
The hare’s fur turns from brown in summer to white during winter which led earlier biologists to believe they ate snow to turn white.
In fact, the change relates to differences in day length and air temperature, which stops them producing brown melanin in their fur.
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