The plague of rabbits

Wild RabbitI had reason to ring Ian our grower one day last week and heard him trying to clear the Go Local Food growing areas of a rabbit invasion – it was quite interesting to listen to the activity. How the rabbits got in he didn’t know at the time but they were leaving by leaping over the fences.

You know that our wild rabbits originated from Spain and South-West France where they were originally farmed for meat and fur by the Romans. The Normans then bought rabbits to England in the 12th century AD. The Normans, like the Romans, intended to keep rabbits in captivity in warrens to breed as a source of meat and fur. However so many of them (the rabbits not the Normans) escaped into the wild and bred so vigorously that it became uneconomical as a commercial concern to farm them.

During the industrial revolution many people moved from the countryside into towns taking their rabbits with them. As a pair of rabbits could produce an awful lot of meat in a year they were an important source of food. But in the 19th century things started to look up for the rabbits as the Victorians began dabbling in breeding them for shows and competitions. However rabbit returned to the food plate extensively during the Second World War food shortages only to decline again when rationing ceased and other food became available.

Nowadays the main predators of wild rabbits are the stoat and the fox. Young rabbits also fall to birds of prey and weasels.