They may look cute when you see them on spring walks, but your average bunny is less Disney and more Terminator in the eyes of farmers. The old phrase ‘breeding like rabbits’ is a reality in the modern countryside.
The ancestor of all domestic rabbits, the European rabbit is a monumental breeder, sexually mature at four months old and able to reproduce all year round. With a gestation period of only 30 days and litters of between two to eight kittens, it’s no wonder our rabbit population has exploded.
But why are they considered such a pest? Well, just seven to 10 rabbits can eat the same amount of food as one adult sheep, grazing on crops, grassland and young trees. Considering current estimates place the rabbit population at 35 million, growing 2 percent every year, it’s easy to see to see how they cause millions of pounds of damage to agriculture. To make the problem worse, in extreme conditions such as a drought year, rabbits can remove too much vegetation, leading to soil erosion.
When the disease myxomatosis hit in the 1950s the population was decimated, but now numbers have almost completely recovered and many rabbits have become immune to the disease’s effects. Today, rabbits are classed as vermin and it’s legal to cull them by shooting, netting, using ferrets to flush them out of burrows, or gassing.
In every issue of Countryfile Magazine, Adam Henson answers your questions about farming, smallholding and the countryside. If you have a question you’d like to ask Adam, click here. If we print yours you’ll receive a Countryfile Magazine mug!