Rabbits: Management options for preventing damage (TIN003)



It is estimated that farmers are losing about £50 million per annum as a consequence of rabbit damage to cereals. Winter wheat, barley and oats appear to be most vulnerable. Rye and triticale suffer smaller losses and spring barley appears to be the least susceptible to rabbit damage. In terms of annual yield, a loss of 1% per rabbit per hectare (2.5 acres) has been recorded for winter wheat and 0.33% per rabbit per hectare for spring barley.

The effects of grazing on winter cereals are most obvious during the winter, when plant growth is slow, and become less apparent when crops grow more rapidly in the spring.

In fact, by harvest, plants grazed by as many as 20 rabbits per hectare can be the same height as plants that have never been grazed. Yields, however, can be reduced by about 20%.

This clearly illustrates not only the scale of the problem but also the difficulties in accurately assessing the impact of grazing.


The effect of rabbit grazing on pasture is less obvious than on cereals. Grazing of newly sown grassland may result in poor establishment or complete failure of the sward. Over-winter grazing of established grassland reduces early grass that is needed in the spring. Yields of crops cut later for silage or hay may also be substantially reduced.

Continuous grazing soon reduces the vigour of species such as Italian ryegrass or meadow fescue.

Permanent grass on good soils is better able to withstand close defoliation, but grazing by large numbers of rabbits can weaken or kill even persistent leafy ryegrass. Scratching and burrowing can degrade pasture still further by encouraging the establishment of weeds such as nettles, thistles and ragwort. In terms of annual yield, recent studies have indicated the loss to be almost 1% per rabbit per hectare.

Other Crops

Rabbit damage has been recorded to a wide range of crops in Britain. Besides cereals and grassland, some of the most important include roots, brassicas and market garden crops, which can all suffer severe damage, both to the growing plants and the marketable end product.


Rabbits can damage or kill planted nursery stock and young trees of many species. Damage to the bark of large trees can also be serious and semi-mature hedgerows may also be vulnerable. In extreme circumstances, rabbits may prevent natural regeneration in woodlands. Damage ranges from the eating of young seedlings to the destruction of leading shoots, the browsing of branches and removal of bark. The burrowing activities of rabbits can also undermine root systems.

Damage to archaeological sites, monuments and landscapes

Animal burrowing on archaeological sites results in the disturbance and sometimes destruction of artefacts, ecofacts and buried land surfaces. It also leads to the destabilisation of monuments, which in turn can lead to an altering of a monuments profile. Damage by burrowing should be prevented or avoided because our archaeological resource is finite and contains irreplaceable information that is important to the study of the human past.

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