Damage coused by rabbits
Reasons for control
Despite the rabbits cute reputation as a much loved cartoon character in the form of bugs bunny or peter rabbit, they are also a major pest species in the UK. This mammal is largely underestimated by most but their capabilities to breed as well as, chew, eat and dig through most landscapes is second to none.
For those whose property falls victim to the destruction caused by rabbits it poses problems in a variety of ways depending on the land use. The problems will only multiply if the rabbit population is left unregulated.
Here is a section of the typical habitats and the problems rabbits cause in such an area.
7 rabbits will eat as much as a sheep. With this in mind it doesn’t take much to understand how even a small population of rabbits can decimate a colossal amount of crop. It is estimated that rabbits cost the British agricultural industry £100million a year through crop damage. With out doubt they are the number one pest species for farmers.
In areas where horses and other livestock are kept
When one considers the volume of what a rabbit can eat (as stated above) it is easy to understand the loss of grazing they cause. This in turn often means there is a need to buy in extra forage to counteract the lost of grazing at a great expense. Burrowing rabbits also pose a threat to livestock and horses alike. Animals breaking legs in rabbit holes is not uncommon. Depending on the value of such livestock and the likely cost of vet fees to successfully repair the injury it is often the case that the animal is put to sleep.
Forestry,plantations and orchards
Rabbits play havoc in such places and cause hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage to such industries each year. Ring barking (gnawing the whole way round the base of the tree) is the most common problem. If such a tree has its lower bark completely removed by rabbits - which is common in colder weather conditions the tree will die. If the rabbits only chew part of the way round the trunk, the tree will be able to retain a certain amount of nutrition however this often means disease and fungi can take hold. The targeted trees also become weak and unstable. This problem obviously poses the threat of collapsing trees and potential accidents as well as the loss of earnings from trees dying. This can also have a negative effect on habitat management.
In areas where coppicing takes place and rabbits eat the new growth the remainder of the tree will die off. Saplings are often targeted as well, meaning they will need to be replaced to provide correct woodland management. Tree guards can help to a degree but rabbits often chew through them in times of hardship. Rabbits are also capable of reaching heights of 50cm plus when stretched out on hind legs and capable of climbing if there is low foliage around. When rabbits attack fruit trees, the next harvest will be a ‘bumper’ crop as it is natures’ way of carrying on by producing extra seeds. This however is short-lived as the trees invariably die.
Rabbits cause all sorts of problems in gardens. They love eating plants and flowers (normally ones of value), so cause great annoyance to those who like to keep their garden aesthetically pleasing. Such targeted plants need to be replaced once rabbits have relied upon them as a food sources. Their droppings and urine also taint and burn lawns meaning they often look unkempt where rabbits frequently graze.
They also dig scrapes in search of young shoots, in time this can often mean lawn replacement is needed, at great expense to the owner. As in forestry, ornamental garden trees will also be attacked again causing considerable expense for replacements.
Their burrows also provide the risk of injury to humans and pets alike. Burrows often increase in size annually, if the rabbit numbers are not controlled, meaning a garden could soon resemble a war zone. Rabbits are resourceful creatures and often take up residence in places other than in holes such as under decking, garden sheds and even houses. This could potentially cause issues such as subsidence and the risk of fire if they chew through electrical wires. Wild rabbits can also pass on diseases to unvaccinated pet rabbits, which could result in the loss of the pet.
Railways / Motorways
Such areas normally consist of steep embankments covered in varying amounts of vegetation. This provides an ideal & potentially safe environment for rabbits, providing them with food, shelter & little predation. These areas often contain a high population or rabbits which then feed on adjacent land causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to crops etc.
Trees and plantations on embankments regularly become targeted & once ring barked by rabbits they die & can become unstable, the burrows they dig can also cause subsidence both of which- if unnoticed can cause serious accidents. In these areas rabbits need to be controlled for Health & Safety reasons.
Sports Grounds and Public areas
These are often favoured habitats for rabbits in both urban & rural areas. The most likely reason for the need for rabbits to be controlled in such places is mainly due to digging. As rabbits continue to dig scrapes & burrows this heightens the chance of a member of the public falling & injuring themselves- which could potentially result in a lawsuit against the landowners or managers. Cricket squares prove irresistible and overnight can become unplayable. Rabbits can also cause damage to sports equipment such as football and cricket nets as well as posing a fire risk if they take up residence under buildings in the vicinity – through chewing wires.
In such areas rabbits can be very much a Health & Safety issue.
Rabbits cause problems in such environments for various reasons. They eat a variety of plants & they don’t differentiate between the common & rare ones which can affect the existence of such plants. They tend to graze systematically from their burrows outwards which can mean the loss of habitat for various insects & small mammals, which in turn can have a dramatic affect on birds of prey that rely on such hunting grounds.
Destruction of areas can be caused by burrowing on embankments & hills alike, subsidence & erosion often occur meaning species such as the very rare burrowing solitary bee could lose its few favoured sites in this country. Trees & shrubs often get ring barked which in turn means they die! Whilst dying & rotten trees can provide food for some creatures it can also mean the loss of food & shelter to others.
In such areas rabbits need to be managed carefully to avoid the loss of native species – as rabbits are not indigenous to this country.
Such areas are often busy places of work that need to run efficiently. Rabbits are resourceful creatures & thrive in both rural & urban areas.
Rabbits tunnelling under path/roadways, hard surfaces & buildings can cause weakness & damage to the structures in the form of erosion & subsidence. Burrows & scratching caused by rabbits digging also pose the treat of people injuring themselves through falls. Rabbits that find their way into artificial burrows such as wire ducts, wall cavities or drainage pipes can cause fires & flooding through chewing & digging. In severe cases this can cause hundreds of thousands of pounds in property damage & loss off earnings & is very much a health & safety issue.
Rabbits can contract a variety of diseases & virus’s – none of which can be passed onto humans – here are the main two.
Myxomatosis is the most common disease that rabbits catch, which is carried via fleas that pass from rabbit to rabbit. There are many different strengths/ strains of this disease. In more severe cases rabbits become blind, lose weight & die slowly. Rabbits are however showing a certain amount of immunity to this man made disease which was introduced in the 1950’s.
VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) is 2nd to myxomatosis & is passed from rabbit to rabbit in many ways, the virus can be airborne as well as by physical contact. It normally kills within 48 hours & those rabbits who succumb to such ill fortune can normally be diagnosed by blood visible from their orifices.
Disease & virus’s can quickly infect densely populated areas of rabbits - this in turn causes much distress & suffering to those infected.
Effective control measures & management are the best way forward to avoid disease & virus’s spreading. On an animal welfare issue it’s better to have 2 healthy rabbits on land than 200 sick ones!