Rabbits are sociable animals and live in colonies in burrow systems known as warrens.

Rabbits and humans

Humans have been the rabbit's main enemy since it has been regarded as a major pest for the last 200 years. Rabbits cause a lot of damage to crops, gardens and the countryside. Earlier last century, when the rabbit population was much larger, they caused such extensive damage to crops and trees that they were included in the Pests Act 1954.

In 1954, a flea-carried virus called myxomatosis was introduced to the wild rabbit population and this killed more than 95% of Britain's rabbits. Myxomatosis is a distressing disease, affecting the eyes and brain. The drastic reduction in rabbit numbers also caused a decline in the number of foxes, buzzards and other predators as well as affecting the growth of vegetation; unwanted plants such as gorse, bramble and coarse grasses were encouraged to grow. However, rabbits are once again more common, having developed a resistance to the virus, although populations in some areas are occasionally affected by new strains of the virus.

Even though rabbits are once again causing damage to crops and forest plantations, they are providing their predators with much needed food. Also, without rabbits, much of our downland and cliff tops would be overgrown with gorse, bramble and hawthorn scrub. Rabbits suppress the growth of shrubs by nibbling the growing shoots; the resulting turf encourages the growth of low-growing plants such as vetches and trefoils. In turn, these small flowering plants attract many butterflies and the short grass is suitable for other insects such as ants. The insects in turn attract many species of birds.

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