About The Rabbit
The European Rabbit (Orytolagus cuniculus)
It is believed that the wild rabbits of the UK with which we are all so familiar are the descendants of the rabbits originally brought to England in the 12th century AD by the Normans as a source of meat and fur, but an archaeological dig in Norfolk uncovered the remains of a 2,000 year old rabbit which would most certainly prove that it was the Romans which originally introduced them, all we can be sure of is that they were introduced and despite originating from a warmer climate, they thrived, as by the late 1940s the UK rabbit population stood at an estimated 50 to 100 million.
During the 1950s, the disease Myxomatosis arrived and the rabbit almost became extinct, however, it is once again common in the British countryside and considered a serious pest by farmers, forestry interests and gardeners. Rabbit numbers in the UK today are estimated to be around 45 million.
The European rabbit is a mammal about 34–50 cm in length, many people mistakenly refer to the rabbit as rodents but it is in fact a lagomorph, however they are similar to rodents in that they have incisor teeth that continually grow. It is generally grey-brown in colour, but ginger, silver and black are fairly common among wild populations. They have long, mobile ears, large hind feet and a short, fluffy, white tail.
Rabbits can be found in a wide variety of habitats in the U.K such as grassland, farmland, moorland, woodland, hedgerows and sand dunes.
Rabbits dig networks of burrows in sandy soils or other soft substrates know as warrens, the rabbit is by nature a night browsing herbivore, resting in its burrow by day and emerging usually around dusk to feed on grasses or cereals.
Rabbits become sexually mature as young as 3–4 months. A single pair may rear up to seven litters a year which could result in as many as 30–40 offspring. Young are born in a nesting burrow dug by the female (Doe); this may be in a quiet part of the warren or in a specially dug tunnel with a single entrance know as a stop, somewhere nearby.
Rabbits in the UK can breed throughout the year, though this is limited by climate and the availability of food, generally breeding take place from February to September. Rabbits raise altricial young which means they are born in an undeveloped state and require care and feeding by the parents, the male (Buck) plays no part in the upbringing of the babies (Kits) by the time they are around 28 days old they are ready to leave the warren.
Rabbits are a food source for many predators such as buzzards, foxes, cats, stoats, weasels, polecats, mink and man. Wild rabbits have a life expectancy of about 2 - 4 years, but many will not last their first year.
The rabbit is a major vertebrate pest of British forestry and agriculture, causing economic losses estimated to be in excess of £263 million annually. They cause damage to grazing and grassland, cereals, brassicas, root crops and young trees. Burrowing can cause damage to structures such as fences, rail and motorway embankments, historical sites, public amenity grassland and flood defences. Burrows and droppings may be hazards to health and safety in areas used by the public or livestock.