Rabbits are not rodents as many believe, they belong to the order Lagomorpha. They live in a system of burrows, known as a warren, but will also live under sheds, in rubble and in piles of dead tree roots and branches.
They eat a wide range of herbage and are attracted to agricultural crops that are nutritious and plentiful.
The main breeding season is January to August but autumnal breeding is becoming more common with the arrival of warmer winters. Females start to breed at three to four months. Gestation is 28-30 days and females produce four to five litters a year. Breeding success is lower in high density populations and higher in low density, so a reproductive explosion can be expected following a period of control.
Myxomatosis - a virus spread by the rabbit flea, and peculiar only to rabbits. Symptoms are swollen eyelids and ear bases. When it first reached Britain in 1953 it was fatal, spread rapidly and killed 99% of the wild rabbit population. Now weaker strains predominate and rabbits have developed some genetic resistance. Survivors acquire immunity which they have for life, so by 1980 it was only killing about 20% of rabbits each year. It plays a part in naturally keeping rabbit numbers down, but it is illegal to deliberately spread myxomatosis.
The legal position - Before taking action, assess whether the seriousness of the damage justifies it. Remember, occupiers of land have a legal obligation to control rabbits or prevent them doing damage on neighbouring land.
Under the Wild Mammals Act 1996, it is an offence to intentionally inflict unnecessary suffering on any wild animal.
RABBIT CONTROL OPTIONS
Gassing - very effective when correctly administered and can reduce the rabbit population by 80%.
- look for the possible presence of badger setts and fox earths. It is illegal to gas badgers and fumigant is not approved for use against foxes. IF IN DOUBT DO NOT GAS !
- aluminium phosphide fumigants are the only ones approved for the control of rabbits ( and moles and rats)
- it is a requirement to hold an approved certificate of competence before using aluminium phosphide for vertebrate control in the United Kingdom.
Shooting - daytime shooting is rarely effective. Night shooting with spotlights / night vision can be very effective
Spring Traps - only approved traps such as Fenn Mark IV and the BMI Magnum 116 can be used to catch and kill rabbits. The rules of placement are specific in order to protect non-target species.
Live Cage Traps - can be used all year round but is most effective in winter. Bait traps with carrot or apple
Ferreting - our professional operators leave nothing to chance and use our tried and tested strain of ferrets, for use in the deepest of chalk warrens where they push out the most stubborn of buck rabbits. This is truly an environmentally friendly method and any non-target species such as polecats and slow worms can easily escape. Furthermore, instant results can be seen by the tally at the end of the job.
Snaring - intended to tether animals prior to humane despatch. Only free running snares may be used, self-locking snares are illegal. There is much public opposition to snaring and there is risk of catching non-target species and
domestic pets so can only be used in certain situations safely and is a last resort.