Greater Anglia and its five Community Rail Partnerships have joined forces to help fund the University of East Anglia (UEA) research a deadly hare disease.
The university has sent a plea for more funding over fears that East Anglia's hare population could soon be wiped out.
Since October 2018, UEA has received over 1000 separate reports from the public of often multiple dead or dying hares across the UK, from northern Scotland to the Kent coast and from East Anglia to Devon and Wales.
Researchers have put this partly down to a new calcivirus that has already affected rabbit and hare populations in Europe.
The virus - Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 or RHDV2 - was first reported in domestic rabbits in England and France in 2010.
Greater Anglia and its partnerships have donated £2,000 to UEA's research, but they still require more funding.
Alan Neville, Greater Anglia’s Customer and Community Engagement Manager, said:
“Hares are absolutely iconic to our region – which is why we adopted a stylised hare as the mascot for our new trains – so it was heart breaking to hear of their plight.
“As a company which cares very much about the region and works closely with our five Community Rail Partnerships to protect and enhance our fragile ecosystems through greener travel and wildlife initiatives at rural stations, we felt that we needed to join forces and offer some funding in the hope that a solution can be found.”
Professor Diana Bell is the leading Professor of Conservation Biology at UEA and is leading the research.
She is creating a database to map all the reported cases of hares contracting the disease.
Prof Diana Bell said:
“Thanks to the public reporting cases of dead and dying hares, we have now been able to confirm one cause of the escalating deaths as the jump of RHDV2 from rabbits to hares in the UK for the first time.
“We fear that many of the other 35 species of hare worldwide may also be susceptible to this new virus, presenting a significant threat to the global hare population.
"Indeed, RHDV2 has now been reported in at least four other hare species across Europe, including the Mountain hare.
“This would have major global impact both for hares and the many ecosystems in which they play an important role as grazers and prey species.
“The next step is to find out more about RHDV2 through further research but we need funding urgently.
"We would be so grateful for further donations to help us continue to carry out this important work.”
Anyone is free to donate money to the research cause.