Rabbits

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dillstew
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Rabbits

Post by dillstew »

I started a meadow last year and I thought I had made a good start. It is very rural where I live and the ground behind my house where the meadow is, is part of a former diary and not fenced in. Recently the local rabbit population has increased. Over the years numbers have been low because of disease, but I think they have developed immunity and clearly they have done what rabbits do, and there seem to be a lot of them now. They have become bolder and are clearly all over the land in the early mornings. It may be my imagination but it seems to me that the grass is not growing as much as I expected. Could it be that the rabbits are grazing and that will keep the grass down. They seem to have had the cowslips that I planted already. Does anyone know what I should expect in terms of the meadow?
Amy
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Re: Rabbits

Post by Amy »

I'm so glad you asked because only this week I've been watching the incursions of the dreaded rabbit with dismay, and I had a quick doublecheck on the internet.

There is A Lot of Bad Press, as they are a non native pest species, which eat many crops, including grass, and many garden plants, and they dig burrows where they are not wanted. "Foliage and soft shoots of woody plants can be grazed up to a height of 50cm (20in) by rabbits standing up on their hind legs."(https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=219)

However, nationally, populations are declining due to disease. They are selective grazers and keep their chosen diet plants very short, leaving some areas of bare earth, so good for some invertebrates. And perhaps, they will save us some work in cutting and raking.

For a refreshing and unusual positive note - I found the FSC Biodiversity video: Exploring the Role of Rabbits as Landscape Engineers.

Watch from 16.32 if short of time. Farmers may not agree with all the statements therein. The video makes the case for rabbits, and mentions that they eat nitrogen loving plants such as nettles, but also knapweed.

So a low local population of rabbits might be not too bad; a high local population is not great.

If your heart is continually broken by them eating your plants, perhaps specialist rabbit fencing will be an answer. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=219
and, though this may be more than you want to know:
Rabbits: management options for preventing damage Natural England Technical Information Note TIN003 https://www.newcastle-staffs.gov.uk/sit ... tin003.pdf discusses fencing among other traditional solutions.

https://www.discoverwildlife.com/how-to ... mal-holes/ how to distinguish between animal holes

and I thought this extract could be interesting to those who might be squeamish about other methods and have small areas to manage:
Control of rabbits by prevention of holes has a double benefit in that it keeps the hedge in repair relatively painlessly on the principle of "a stitch in time". [..................] an inspection about once a month is enough to detect the first holes which should be promptly filled in with stones and turf, and stamped down. The rabbits will try to re-open the hole, but are discouraged by its being blocked again.

To rid a whole farm of rabbits just by blocking holes, and keeping them blocked, may seem fanciful and unrealistic, but it works, especially if combined with mothballs put into each hole before blocking. Like any wild animal, a rabbit dislikes being hustled and as long as fresh holes are stopped up, and a watch kept on them for a few days, the rabbits will go away. Within
a year there will be no evidence that there were rabbits there. The trick is to work gradually outwards, perhaps over several years, from a convenient central point on the farm, making sure
that both sides of each hedge are dealt with at the same time. Incoming rabbits usually start opening up holes at the same locations, so effective control is maintained by just keeping a eye on those places, and blocking up the few new holes each time.
."
(As an aside, this also says rabbits can swim.)
http://www.cornishhedges.co.uk/PDF/rabbits.pdf The Curse of Rabbits in Cornish Hedges

(I will not be encouraging them and I may for once be glad of an ultra high water table which I hope will prevent burrows in the middle of a field. And we have plenty of buzzards and a local goshawk which will benefit. I'll also try the blocking of holes disturbance method before any other traditional solution. I've found the disturbance method with moles - making a hole in the molehill to let in the daylight - definitely keeps moles out of my lawn and the moles will stay in the fields where they can drain the right areas for me.)
akwilliams
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Joined: Sat Apr 03, 2021 8:05 pm
Location: Great Torrington, Devon

Re: Rabbits

Post by akwilliams »

I have recently joined and my first search on the forum was for "rabbits" which proved fruitless, so I welcome this thread.

I am working on improving a small meadow where the grass was cut for the first time in many years in autumn 2018. The new sweet grass that then emerged seemed to be just what rabbits wanted, their numbers increased and they grazed about half of the site, although they ignored the yellow rattle that was sown after the cut. By summer 2020 their numbers appeared to have dropped again and the grass was able to grow.

Unfortunately, because of covid, illness and bad weather last autumn the grass could not be cut and we were left with the problem of what to do with the already purchased flower seed. Some was sown into turf that had been scarified (and into soil thrown up by rabbits' scrapings), the remainder was sown in pans and grown on, ready to plant out, but overall we have not achieved the coverage we were hoping for.

The rabbit population this spring seems to have rocketed again - and across the whole site, so I am concerned about what effect they will have on the precious plants we do get established this year. The yellow rattle is emerging through last year's matted grass and I hope that, as with this species, the rabbits will choose not to add the new plants to their menu.

The site is, for the most part, unfenced, unhedged and they appear to be burrowing off-site, so it looks to be a case of living with what may turn out to be a fluctuating population.
dillstew
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Re: Rabbits

Post by dillstew »

Thank you Amy, what a lot of helpful information. I am in a dillemma because I was wanting to encourage wildlife, but then wildlife came in a way I wasn't expecting. i already had them last year, but not in the meadow section, as far as i was aware, but they had created short burrows in my flower beds and my raised veg beds. They also got a lot of my strawberries, grrrr!
I am now slowly putting chicken wire around the raised beds, at great expense. I have also found a burrow entrance fairly close to the house and I am entertaining them with very loud gypsy punk music by Gogol Boredello. I could let you know how that works; I know the moles don't like it. But the meadow remains a dillemma. I am covering up the remaining cowslips with plastic covers and I hope some flowers will emerge from the seeds I sowed in the autumn, but its not looking good so far.
Thanks again,
Ann
Amy
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Re: Rabbits

Post by Amy »

AK I think we all can share disaster stories with seed. I was playing clever, putting some in the fridge, then found it was germinating, so I squelched it into the mud in Jan/Feb/Mar, - not a sign now, I think it has all frizzled. I'm glad for you that your rattle has surfaced, mine has not shown a leaf, and now it's warmer the deer (and a Rabbit) are in grazing every day.

Nb - my other half says = spray Jeyes around the rabbit hole, it will put them off, that's what shoot keepers do to keep foxes and rats away from pheasant pens. (the rabbits from the holes, not the foxes from the rabbits!) Now someone will come on and say Jeyes is bad..

Ann - you have made my day/week and probably that of everyone else here.. lucky rabbits.... I am very happily listening now to Gogol Boredello right now..
Richard Lewis
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Re: Rabbits

Post by Richard Lewis »

Grass isn't growing much at the moment due to lack of rain, the rabbits are unlikely to be making much of an impact. Like many species they have population cycles - in the case of rabbits it seems to be mostly linked to waves of myxamytosis - every few years a new wave will kill off all the rabbits with genetic susceptibility and those in poor health, leaving a remnant population of relatively resistant bunnies which will keep breeding until the next wave of myxamytosis comes along.

Rabbits are a non-native species from Spain, brought over by the Normans and loving tended in specially built warrens as a luxury food and fur for the nobility, until over the centuries they adapted to our climate and started to spread. The word 'warren' originally applied to a kind of hunting licence from the king which allowed a lord to keep game such as deer, which would otherwise be the exclusive property of the king. Early rabbit warrens were often quite elaborate with specially built mounds and even moats to protect the (very valuable) rabbits.

Rabbits are still really important for conservation in a few rare habitats where traditional grazing management has been lost or changed in recent decades - in particular in sand dunes, and also the Brecklands of East Anglia. Their close cropping of the ground and disturbance from digging creates open, nutrient-poor conditions needed by a suite of specialist plants and invertebrates. Our much-loved and declining Brown Hares are also introduced, though longer ago (by the first Neolithic farmers) and our only truly native lagomorph is the Mountain Hare which is now largely restricted to the Scottish uplands and the Island of Ireland.
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