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RABBIT

NATURE IN CONTROL

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Information about the Rabbit -Oryctolagus Cuniculus

The rabbit was introduced into the UK by the Normans for food and fur. It provides an easy encounter with wildlife for many, often spotted on roadsides or in parks.

About

The rabbit is a very familiar animal that can be spotted grazing grasses, cereals, root vegetables, tree bark and shoots on farmland, heathland and grasslands. It can also be found on sand dunes and moorland, at woodland edges, on roadside verges, and in towns and cities. Rabbits live in large groups in extensive underground burrow systems known as 'warrens'. They are famous breeders; females, known as 'does', produce one litter of between three and seven young every month during the breeding season (January to August). Rabbits are prey for a variety of animals, including stoats, buzzards, polecats and red foxes.

How to identify

The rabbit is grey-brown in colour, with long ears and hind legs, and a fluffy white tail. It is smaller than the brown hare and does not have black tips on its ears.

Distribution

Widespread.

Your responsibility to control rabbit numbers

You must obey the law to control rabbit numbers on your property or land. England (excluding the City of London and Isles of Scilly) was declared a rabbit clearance area under the Pests Act 1954.

You must control rabbits on your land in this area. If this is not possible you must stop them causing damage to adjoining crops by putting up rabbit proof fencing. If you don’t take action the Secretary of State for the Environment can enforce control and prosecute if this action is not taken.

You can control rabbits using these methods:

  • shooting

  • gas

  • traps and snares

  • fencing

  • ferreting

When you can shoot rabbits

If you are the occupier of land you can shoot rabbits on your land during the day and can authorise in writing one other person to do so. That person must be part of your household, one of your staff, or be employed for reward to specifically control the rabbits.

If the owner of the shooting rights for your land does not agree to destroy the rabbits themselves or allow you to use extra shooters, you can apply to Natural England for authority to do so.

Control with gas

You should use someone trained in the use of gassing products if you choose this method of control. Read the Health and Safety Executive information sheet gassing of rabbits and vertebrate pests.

Catch with traps and snares

It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to a rabbit caught in a trap or snare.

You can use cage traps, drop box traps or spring traps, but you must:

  • check traps and snares once a day

  • humanely despatch any rabbits you catch

  • only use approved spring traps

You must not:

  • place them where they will be exposed to severe weather

  • place them near a fox earth or badger sett

  • use self-locking snares

See Animal welfare and Animal welfare in severe weather for more information.

Exclude rabbits with fencing

There are 3 types of fencing:

  • electric netting

  • electric strained wire (similar to the kind used to manage cattle and sheep)

  • permanent wire-mesh netting

Fencing restrictions

You need Secretary of State agreement to put up fencing on Scheduled Monuments.

You should not put up fencing on archaeological sites.

Some wildlife habitats and species depend on rabbit grazing, so you should consider wildlife interests when deciding where to put up rabbit fencing.

You should install badger gates if the fence crosses any badger runs.

Use ferrets

You can send ferrets into the burrow system. The ferrets drive rabbits into nets, which are placed over the burrow entrances or to waiting guns that shoot them as they bolt from tunnel entrances.

RABBITS

You can shoot rabbits at night only if you are:...

  • an owner/occupier with shooting rights

  • a landlord/landlady who has reserved their shooting rights

  • a shooting tenant not in occupation who has derived the shooting rights from the owner

  • an occupier, or one other person authorised by the occupier in writing, where the occupier has written authority from someone with the shooting rights

Make a complaint about rabbit damage If you’re suffering damage from rabbits coming from neighbouring land, you should contact the landowner concerned first, to agree how to resolve the issue.

If your neighbour fails to control them, you can make a complaint to Natural England using form A02. More details on how this will be dealt with are available on the form page.

If rabbits live on land owned by Network Rail, you should telephone Network Rail national helpline 03457 11 41 41.

See Pest control on your property for general advice about controlling pests.

Identification: Grey brown fur with black upper side to tail and white underside of tail (white underside raised when alarmed). Ears about same length as head. Brown eyes (brown hares have noticeably lighter amber eyes). Smaller than hare without the black tips to the ears that the brown hare has.

Rabbits communicate using a secret code. Well, it’s not actually a secret code, but you could be forgiven for thinking it is because their body movements are so subtle. Bunnies clench their facial muscles and change their body position when they are feeling worried; signs you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking out for them. 

​Facts about

  • A female rabbit is called a doe.

  • A male rabbit is called a buck.

  • A young rabbit is called a kit (or kitten).

  • Rabbits live in groups.

  • The European rabbit lives underground, in burrows. A group of burrows is known as a warren.

  • Rabbits have long ears which can be as long as 10 cm (4 in).

  • Rabbits have a lifespan of around 10 years.

  • Rabbits are herbivores (plant eaters).

  • Rabbits reproduce very quickly. This can be a major headache for people living in agricultural areas where rabbits are seen as pests.

  • Rabbits are born with their eyes closed and without fur.

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