RABBITS

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, butit is illegal to deliberately spread myxomatosis.

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 Clearance Orders (Section1) - Rabbit Clearance order No 148 issued in 1972 made the whole of England and Wales a rabbit clearance area (excluding the City of London, the Isles of Scilly and Stockholm Island)
This means that all occupiers have an obligation to control rabbits on their land, unless they can establish it is not practical for them to do so. In this case they must prevent rabbits from doing damage by the use of rabbit-proof fencing. An occupier within a rabbit clearance area has the right to kill rabbits by any lawful means except shooting.

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