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European Rabbit (oryctolagus cuniculus)
Despite the rabbit been one of most commonly seen wildlife species in the UK it is not actually a native species, it was introduced by the Romans at least 2000 years ago. There had been some debate on whether it was the Romans or Normans that introduced it but an archaeological dig in Norfolk in 2005 found the remains of a rabbit in a roman site. Whoever was responsible for bringing rabbits to the UK one things for certain, they’re here to stay !.
Size : Adult rabbits can weigh between 1kg to 2.5kg. The male of the species grows slightly bigger and as a slightly broader head.
Features : Rabbits have four incisors that grow constantly throughout the rabbits life, their rear legs are larger and more muscular than their front. This aids them as they flee from predators. The soles of their feet are covered in a thicker coarser hair than the rest of their bodies, this cushions the impact on their joints when running and protects their feet from cuts and abrasions, their feet are webbed to stop their toes spreading out when running.
Diet : Rabbits are strict herbivores feeding on Grass, shoots, buds, leaves, crops and tree bark. They also eat their own droppings as part of their digestion process.
Breeding : The phrase “breeding like rabbits” came about for very good reason. The rabbit breeding season is said to be from February to August, but in truth rabbits are now breeding 12 months of the year, I’ve regularly been catching milky does in January for the last few years and have seen young rabbits sat on top of warrens in December. Rabbits have between 2 to 12 babies (kits), these young are then sexually mature at between three to four months of age. One pair of adult can produce between 30-40 young a year, these young are then able to breed in the same year.
Behaviour : Rabbits live in groups in a network of underground tunnels known as a warren, the number of entrance/exit holes and the depth and complexity of the tunnel network varies dependant on a number of factors such as number of rabbits in the group, the make up of the ground, time the warren as been there etc. Rabbit groups are territorial and will make their territory with piles of droppings, these droppings are usually larger than their normal droppings and covered in secretions from their anal glands. Rabbits are usually more active by night but can be seen at all times of day especially during the summer months when the young are seen sat out and the pregnant/lactating females are “grassing up” to help good milk production. Rabbits can be very aggressive towards each other, especially males competing for females during the breeding season and it’s not uncommon to see male rabbits with pieces from their ears and scars from these encounters.
Why control ?
Rabbits are without doubt the UK’s number one agricultural pest, they cause around £100 million pounds of damage to crops each year and a further £160 million in damage to property and infrastructure.
Rabbits will burrow under buildings, road and rail embankments, under roads and railways. They damage sports fields, golf courses, bowling greens, gardens, flood defences. They will chew all sorts of cables from high voltage electrical to fibre optics communication cables.
Methods of control
One point worth mentioning before discussing legal methods of rabbit control is the mxyomatosis virus, the introduction of this virus or rabbits suffering from this virus to any land in the UK is illegal so must not be used, despite how many people ask if it can be done on their land.
Luckily there are quite a few very successful and efficient methods that can be used to control rabbit infestations for any given situation and it’s using the right method or combination of methods at the right time that is the key to succeeding in controlling them long term.