Rabbits: Management options for preventing damage (TIN003)


Rabbit populations can withstand high mortality from natural causes, so control efforts by man must add to these, not merely replace them, if direct control is to be effective.

Because of the size of the effort required, and the rabbits inherent capacity for population increase, complete eradication is impractical. Instead, the aim should be to reduce rabbit numbers to levels at which damage is economically acceptable. Where access can be gained to burrows, gassing, accompanied by careful habitat management to reduce rabbit harbourage if necessary, is the most effective method of control. In some situations, other techniques may be appropriate.

The most effective time for control is from November to March, although earlier action may be needed on autumn cereals showing signs of heavy grazing. There are four main reasons for this recommendation:

  1. Mortality from natural causes will have reduced rabbit numbers to their lowest level by the winter. Up to 90 per cent of young rabbits born during the summer will have died by this time without intervention by man.
  2. Action at this time will reduce the adult breeding population before the next breeding season begins. Each doe killed during this period can mean at least 20 fewer young rabbits born next summer.
  3. Reduction of numbers during this period will reduce damage to vulnerable autumn sown crops.
  4. Vegetation is dying back, making access to burrows easier, a pre-requisite for gassing operations.

More effective results will be achieved if adjoining land is treated at the same time in a co-operative exercise. Rabbits do not respect boundaries, and joint action will remove animals that use burrows on one holding and feed on another. Control over a substantial block of land will also reduce the rate of re-infestation.

The quality and amount of harbourage are major factors that can determine the number of rabbits in a particular area. Habitat management should therefore play an integral part of any successful rabbit control programme. Scrub and ground cover may need to be thinned sufficiently to give access to all burrows; this is essential where gassing is planned. Also, where practicable, burrow systems should be destroyed following control operations.

Appropriate measures should be taken to minimise damage to other wildlife and habitats. For example, scrub clearance should be avoided during the bird-nesting season.

ADLib logo Content provided by the Agricultural Document Library
© University of Hertfordshire, 2011