Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

The British rabbit is common throughout the whole of the UK with an estimated 38 million rabbits in the UK, making it the most commonly seen British wild mammal. Warm winters have now extended the breeding season and have seen a rapid increase in rabbit populations in recent years with a single female being able to produce 10-30 ‘kittens’ a year with a gestation period of about 31 days, most breeding takes place in the first 6 months of the year. In the 1950s the Myxoma virus was released to try and control the rabbit population, wiping out over 90% of the population within years, but the suffering caused to the animals was not a particularly humane way of culling.

Despite being so common rabbits aren’t actually a native species to Britain, having been introduced (possibly from France) about 900 years ago or possibly earlier by the Romans who raised rabbits, although the ancient Greeks shunned the eating of rabbit claiming it could cause insomnia. Originally they were a useful animal providing fur and a reasonable meal but rabbit fur has long since fallen out of fashion and the meat is rarely eaten in the UK now, although it can be found in more traditional butchers and occasionally in supermarkets.

The home for a colony of rabbits is called a warren. It is normally an extended series of tunnels with a variety of entrances often in sandy soil which makes for easy digging and yet is strong enough for the burrows. A little way from entrances are often middens which are toilet areas, often covered in droppings and forming a raised area often devoid of vegetation and that the rabbits may also use as lookout posts. The entrances are small and oval being of a smaller size than a fox or badger entrance.   The word Warren comes from the term for an enclosed / walled area used to keep rabbits as livestock by the British historically with the term Warrener referring to someone employed to look after rabbits.

Most British rabbits are between 30 and 40cm long when fully grown and can weight in at up to 2 kgs with brown/grayish fur tending towards orange behind the neck, with a short black tipped white tail. They can be differentiated from Hares by their smaller size, less upright pose and shorter legs. They can live up to 10 years but accident and predation means this is rare in the wild. Predators include foxes, weasels , badgers, domestic cats and dogs as well as goshawks and buzzards. The rabbit can see behind itself without rotating its head due to the position of its eyes and will warn each other of danger by thumping the ground. They are most active at Dawn and Dusk . The male is known as a Buck , the female a Doe and young are kittens. In coastal areas Puffins and other birds will occasionally take over disused rabbit warrens

Tracks and Spore

Rabbit tracks are distinctive with 4 pads on fore and hind feet with the rear tracks often appearing as an elongated slipper especially in snow. The stride is approx 20cm , with foot length being about 4 to 6 cm long and 2 ½ cm wide. Droppings are small and round normally dark when fresh and occasionally green, (a green dropping indicates fresh spore) they can be found on the middens in large numbers and also around the warren entrances. They do not normally smell.

Rabbits are relatively easy to skin and prepare. Traditionally head and feet are removed (feet sometimes keep as a lucky charm) and the skin pulled off from the tail normally coming off as a whole. The meat is boney and rich but with little nutritional value.