Rabbits: The prevention of rabbit damage to trees in woodland (FCPN2)

CONTROL MEASURES

Physical barriers

Fencing

Areas should be rabbit-fenced prior to planting and in sufficient time to allow the removal of rabbits from within the fenced area before planting. Some internal subdividing fencing may be necessary to aid the removal of rabbits from heavily infested areas. The maximum manageable size of enclosure will depend on the number of rabbits present, but may be as small as 25 ha on the most heavily infested areas (40 rabbits per hectare or more). Fences must be regularly inspected and repaired.

New rabbit fences should be 0.9 m high, made of 18 gauge (= 1.2 mm diameter wire) x 31 mm hexagonal mesh netting, and with no point along the fence lower than 0.75 m (Figure 1a). An out-turn of 150 mm at the base should be allowed for; this should be buried or covered with cut turves. The wire netting must conform to the British Standard and not just to the European DIN Standard. The latter specifies 31 mm mesh but allows a tolerance up to 36 mm which is too large to stop all but fully-grown rabbits. 19 gauge (= 1.0 mm diameter wire) netting is too lightweight and should not be used because rabbits can bite through the wire. Where rabbit numbers are high and they are known to be fence-climbing, consideration should be given to increasing the specification to include a turnout at the top of the fence (Figure 1b). This may lead to additional burrowing under the fence but this activity is visible and the runs can be easily closed.

Figure 1a. Specification for rabbit and rabbit-stock fences. See Table 1 for woodwork sizes.


A rabbit fence around a restock area in the Forest of Dean.

Figure 1b. Increased specification for rabbit and rabbitstock fences to include a 45 turnout.

 

Table 1. Woodwork sizes - rabbit and stock

Rabbit 

Length (m)

Top Diameter (cm)

End posts 
Struts 
Stakes 

2 or 2.3
2
1.7

10 - 13
8 - 10
5 - 8

Rabbit & Stock 

Length (m)

Top Diameter (cm)

End posts 
Struts 
Stakes 

2.3
2
1.7

10 - 13
8 - 10
8 - 10


The out-turn at the base of the fence should be buried or covered with cut turves.

Tree guards and tree shelters

0.6 m high mesh guards or shelters, in a range of diameters, are sufficient for protecting newly planted trees and shrubs from browsing and bark-stripping. Split plastic tubes can be fitted over the stems of whips and standards, and plastic spiral guards used on feathered trees. Spiral guards must be wound between branches and it is important to ensure that no gaps are left between the spirals - rabbits are capable of gnawing bark through a space as little as 5 mm wide.

Plastic mesh tree guards to protect against browsing damage (left) and bark-stripping (right). 

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