Rabbits: Management options for preventing damage (TIN003)

Legal considerations

Under the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996, it is an offence intentionally to inflict unnecessary suffering as specified by the Act on any wild mammal. This legislation may need to be considered where the destruction of occupied warrens and burrow systems is being contemplated.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 a rabbit becomes a Protected Animal once it is caught in a trap or snare, making it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering. Traps and snares should therefore be inspected at least once and preferably twice a day and, wherever possible, be placed where the trapped animal will not be exposed to extremes of weather.

The occupier may, in writing, authorise other persons to assist him, however only he and one other person authorised by him are entitled to kill using a firearm. The Ground Game Act 1880  exempts an occupier, and persons authorised by him, from the need to hold a game licence when killing or taking rabbits on the occupier's land.

Monuments that are being damaged by burrowing animals may be Scheduled. Any proposals to control rabbits on Scheduled Monuments should be discussed with English Heritage before work starts, to determine whether Scheduled Monument Consent is required.

Under Section 12 of the Pests Act 1954, it is an offence to knowingly spread myxomatosis to uninfected rabbits. The Specified Animal Pathogens Order 1998 (S.I. 1998/463) prohibits the introduction into an animal of the live virus causing viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) of rabbits, except where such introduction is undertaken under the authority of a licence. These prohibitions mean that the deliberate spreading of myxomatosis or VHD cannot be used as a legal method of controlling rabbits.

An Order has been made under Section 1 of the Pests Act 1954 by which England and Wales (except for the City of London, the Isles of Scilly and Skokholm Island) have been designated a Rabbit Clearance Area. In this area, every occupier of land is responsible for the killing or taking of wild rabbits on his land. Where it is not reasonably practical to destroy the rabbits, occupiers must take the necessary steps to prevent them causing damage.

Under section 98 of the Agricultural Act 1947, Defra has the power to serve a Notice under the Agriculture Act 1947, requiring rabbit control to be carried out; if this is not done, they may arrange for the necessary work to be undertaken at the expense of the occupier, who could also be liable to a fine.

To help manage infestations, the Ground Game Act 1880 gives every occupier of land a limited right to kill and take rabbits and hares concurrently with the right of any other person entitled to do so on the same land. An occupier may use any legal method to kill rabbits and should ensure that they comply with other legislative controls on the methods of killing and taking animals, the most relevant of which are discussed further below.

The occupier may, in writing, authorise other persons to assist him, however only he and one other person authorised by him are entitled to kill using a firearm. The Ground Game Act 1880  exempts an occupier, and persons authorised by him, from the need to hold a game licence when killing or taking rabbits on the occupier's land.

Monuments that are being damaged by burrowing animals may be Scheduled. Any proposals to control rabbits on Scheduled Monuments should be discussed with English Heritage  before work starts, to determine whether Scheduled Monument Consent is required.

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