Alastair Robertson: Is a new invasion of bunnies imminent?

Alastair Robertson
Alastair Robertson
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I was gazing out of the window, listening to my sister-in-law on the phone telling me how many memorial services she had been to in Wiltshire this year (they’re dropping like flies in the Home Counties, apparently) when our orange working cocker Crumpet trotted past with half a rabbit in her mouth. Followed by Waffle, her daughter, with what might have once been the other half.

I got up and leaned over the desk to bang on the window. It’s just what you do when a dog appears with something disgusting but you can’t get at it. Both looked up, ignored the banging and carried on.

Crumpet, I knew, was heading for a hole under the beech hedge where I have in the past found a bedroom slipper and an M&S deck shoe. Waffle is less devious and not so possessive and tends to lose interest after a bit.

The rabbit business is endlessly puzzling. Were these delicious titbits evidence of the rabbits’ return? Once we had none, then about ten years ago they appeared out of nowhere in the Curling Pond Wood and shattered a 200x30 yard strip of my neighbour’s young barley. If nothing else there was much sport to be had with the old BSA .22, and a surfeit of rabbit stews and terrines, added to the fact we were doing my neighbour a favour, albeit after the damage had been done.

And then they disappeared, and certainly not because we had shot them all. It wasn’t mixxy as we didn’t find any with runny eyes. Whether they had somehow got RHD which, when it first appeared in 1984, killed 14 million rabbits in China before spreading to Europe, I simply do not know. It’s a very isolated wood, after all.

Was it foxes? Unlikely, since Alan down the road spends half his life – the night-time half – lamping foxes for Britain: 1,500 last year, he says. Badgers? They will dig down to eat babies of any species. And yet the rabbits are here again.

Last week the dogs took off into a strip of whins and Crumpet emerged triumphant with a warm dead baby bunny. Then we saw one or two big ones back in the old warrens in the wood. But the explosion, and some rifle practice I have been expecting, has so far failed to fully materialise – which is odd, or possibly it’s too early in the year, considering a doe will produce 20 young in a year and the females start breeding within a few months.

Apparently they recycle their own droppings when underground to keep the warren clean. The droppings you see on the surface – pure caviar to dogs – have had every ounce of nutrition extracted and are pure waste. Thought you’d like to know. Doesn’t explain what’s going on, though.