Rabbits: Management options for preventing damage (TIN003)

Control methods: Gassing

Gassing is the most effective method of reducing rabbit numbers where burrows are accessible. When correctly used, under the right conditions, gassing can reduce the rabbit population by up to 80%. However, effectiveness decreases in porous soils, when soil moisture is low and also when air temperatures fall below 5oC. For best results, it is essential to drive rabbits to ground before gassing and to find and treat every entrance to the warren system.

On monuments and archaeological sites the soil used for closing up burrow holes should be brought in from off-site as any further digging on site will further damage the monument and add to its disfigurement. On Scheduled Monuments this should have already been agreed with English Heritage as part of the Scheduled Monument Consent.

Selective scrub clearance may be necessary to gain access to burrows. Before embarking on a gassing programme, particular attention should be paid to the possible presence of badger setts, as it is illegal to gas badgers. Care should also be taken to avoid gassing fox earths, as no fumigant is approved for use against foxes. Burrows in or around badger setts and fox earths must not therefore be treated. The impact on other wildlife living in burrows, for example adders, may also need to be considered.

Since the withdrawal of Cymag as a vertebrate control agent, the only commercially available fumigants are formulations that generate phosphine gas on contact with moisture. These are available either in tablet or pellet form.

All fumigants must be approved under the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 and must be used according to label instructions.

Gassing should only be undertaken by persons trained in the use of aluminium phosphide, and familiar with the precautionary measures to be observed. Fumigants can be lethal to humans and it is essential that users follow the instructions on safety aspects.

Users should be aware of the need to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002/2677), in respect both of its general provisions and those which relate specifically to fumigations. Further guidance is provided in the Health and Safety Executive Agriculture Information Sheet No 22 Gassing of rabbits and vertebrate pests (see Further information).

Use of Phosphine 

The only available phosphine generating formulations are Phostoxin and Talunex. Both are extremely toxic to rabbits with inhalation resulting in rapid death.

Phostoxin is formulated as a spherical 3 gram tablet and can be introduced into the burrow system either by hand (protected by suitable gloves) or via an applicator. One tablet should be inserted into each hole. This should then be sealed with a piece of turf, grass side downwards. Care must be taken not to drop soil onto the tablet.

Talunex consists of 0.6 gram pellets that are injected into the burrow system using a Topex applicator, specifically designed for use with this product. The system has the advantage of minimising operator exposure to the formulation. Treatment of infested areas should be the same as with Phostoxin, with the exception that 4 or 5 pellets should be introduced into each hole.

Follow-up action

The effectiveness of all gassing treatments should be monitored by inspecting treated areas for signs of fresh activity 48 hours after the initial treatment. In many situations, a follow-up treatment of re-opened holes will be necessary. Ideally, the procedure should be repeated until no re-opened burrows are found.


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