Pests news from BPCA

04 August 2020

Caught out in the countryside: Practical rabbit management:

TECHNICAL | PPC100 August 2020

Following on from his popular outdoor demonstration at PPC Live 2020 in Harrogate, this is the first in a two-part series of articles from Dave Archer, rural pest management expert. In this article, Dave talks about rabbits; their history, behaviour and biology.

Practical rabbit management pest control article David Archer PPC magazine

SPEED READ:

  • Once you’re known for control of one species you’ll be called back for further control and advice
  • The wild rabbit has a phenomenal breeding rate which can decimate crops such as wheat, barley and maize
  • Get the landowner’s signed permission to carry out any actions on the land, and enclose a map of the boundary
  • Shooting alone will very rarely solve a rabbit problem
  • Walk the area before any treatments, to get a full idea of what you are taking on
  • Publicising or talking about your craft runs an increasing risk of being subject to vandalism or abuse.

I simply love working out of doors in all weather and seasons, with just my dog and birdsong for company. What a life!

I’ve been controlling rabbits and other rural pests professionally for over 40 years and it surprises me that, even among pest controllers, rural wildlife management is not seen as commercially viable.

It most certainly is; moreover, once you are known for control of one species within the farming community, you will inevitably be called back for further control and advice, be it for moles, foxes or deer management.

The European wild rabbit is a small mammal that belongs to the order Leporidae. It is a non–native species introduced by the Romans in the 12th century, spreading rapidly to all parts of the British Isles, bar a few outlying islands.

Rabbit warrens (tunnels beneath the ground for rabbits to live in) were artificially created for the sole purpose of encouraging these new imports to breed within walled enclosures.

Landowners specifically employed staff to oversee the warrens and provide a valuable food source on a regular basis.

Inevitably, there were escapees that were suddenly free to breed and decimate our precious crops on an industrial scale.

Once the genie was out of the bottle so to speak, we were then the victims of our own design.

Those who surname is Warren Warrender or similar share a direct link to your familys historical occupation

Incidentally, those readers whose surname is Warren, Warrender or similar, share a direct link to your family’s historical occupation.

Rabbits are classed as a pest species, which can be taken by approved methods by authorised persons at any time of the year.

However there are stipulations for the controller to abide by, and we shall look at these further on in the article.

During springtime, the wild rabbit has a phenomenal breeding rate which, if left unchecked, can decimate acres of spring crops such as wheat, barley and maize.

Crops are at their most vulnerable at this stage and are devoured by rabbits, themselves having eked out an existence on stale grasses throughout the winter period.

It is not unusual for great swathes of land to be laid bare especially near warrens, where rabbits constantly nibble and dig at the shoots and roots of crops.

If the field has a long gently sloping bank – particularly if it is sandy soil – it is, in every case, a rabbit utopia. In addition, if spring weather is very dry, the crop will not flourish as it should and is even more vulnerable to rabbit attack.

As with all pests, each situation in which rabbit infestations are encountered is different, but the rabbit’s habits are largely the same.

By understanding and tuning in to the rabbit’s lifestyle one can adapt the control methods to suit each individual situation.

You must always be mindful of hares on the land. An enigma in modern times, hares are truly wonderful animals, and any true country lover should know the difference between a hare and a rabbit at any distance, any time of day.

The popular misconception amongst the general public is that farmers and landowners are generally adept and competent at killing rabbits, as farmers have guns.

However, although landowners may have the firepower to control rabbits, it takes great time, knowledge and skill to be proficient in the art of rabbit control.

Shooting alone will very rarely solve a rabbit problem. Additionally, most landowners simply cannot afford the time needed to undertake large–scale rabbit control campaigns.

Where are we today in terms of rabbit control?

Well we can still deploy various legal methods including shooting, ferreting (either to guns or nets), trapping (both live catch and covered snap traps) long nets, snaring and gassing.

However, despite the huge numbers of rabbits I have culled in more than four decades, I can proudly state that I‘ve never gassed a single one; it never sat well with me (or my ferrets) to leave a wonderful food source underground to rot!

Before we even begin to understand the various methods of control, you need to know your species intimately, know the relative laws and always be as humane as you can in your campaigns.

using unnecessary suffering is breaking the law so make sure you’re trained and competent to humanely dispatch any rabbits you catch

Permission granted

First and foremost: if you are called to a rabbit job, however small, get the landowner’s signed permission for you to carry out any actions on the land, and enclose a map of the boundary!

This is an absolute legal fundamental. Should you not be in possession of the facts and you wander onto another’s property with a firearm, you are committing a serious offence, no excuses. You may well lose your firearms and be prosecuted should the owner so wish.

Also, do not assume all landowners own shooting rights to the land; very often tenant farmers have no right to shoot on the land they work.

You need to know the law, it is for you to be fully conversant with your trade.

Should you not be in possession of the facts and you wander onto anothers property with a firearm you are committing a serious offence

Are you insured?

Secondly, make sure your insurance covers you for carrying out rabbit control. Do not assume field sports insurance will cover you: it won’t.

This type of insurance is for recreational pest control and does not cover you for paid employment. Even the landowner allowing you to take the rabbits off the land is classed as payment in kind and you won’t be covered. Beware!

Skills and tools

Thirdly, ensure you are competent, trained, experienced and everything you use is serviceable. No rusty old traps or rifles that are not zeroed.

I make no excuses for stating my personal mantra once again: your first chance is your best, and you must do everything you can to capitalize on this. If you don’t succeed it is not the rabbit’s, the trap’s or your rifle’s fault – oops, it’s yours!

Carry out a survey

Finally, take a walk around the area before you carry out any treatments, to get a full idea of what you are taking on. Dawn or dusk is an ideal time, as rabbits are generally more active then.

You simply cannot price a job on acreage alone; you need to see what is going on at grassroots level!

Some general points to also consider are:

  • Are you allowed to take your dog?
  • Do you guarantee your work? If so, for what timescale?
  • If you envisage taking many rabbits off the land – and yes, sometimes you may be taking hundreds of rabbits in the first week or so – how will you dispose of the rabbits?

Also, rabbit controllers beware – I am increasingly dismayed at the hostility shown toward anyone carrying out essential rural pest control. The days of ‘get me one for the pot‘ are mainly over.

If you feel the need to boast or display any livery to state your craft, especially for those species that are portrayed in the media as ‘cute’, you run an increasing risk of being subject to vandalism or abuse.

I live in one of the most rural parts of these wonderful isles but even I can sense the wind of change blowing through the land.

In the next article, we will delve into the wonderful practical world of rabbit control and I may even let you have my own recipe for rabbit and leek pie.

Source: PPC100

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