Monday, 12 March 2012

Where have all the Rabbits gone?

A year ago I spent time visiting and photographing Rabbits at some local warrens, however, a visit at the weekend showed no signs of life, with my particular favourite warren disused.  What was once a hive of activity last year (See ‘Some more Bunnies’ post) was now completely abandoned!  On investigating the other dozen plus warrens, all but one seemed to have suffered the same fate and where I would normally see lots of Rabbits, I only saw a glimpse of one (being chased by a dog).

I can only guess their demise has been either as a result of disease or deliberate poisoning as it has been very sudden.  If their disappearance is down to disease then this is just part of the natural order of things but if it’s down to being poisoned then I wouldn’t be so happy.  Although I know they can be destructive, I haven’t noticed an increase in their numbers and their areas of feeding from what I could see where limited to a local area within the Nature Reserve and was not being adversely effected. 

I have noticed a great reduction in the number of Foxes seen in the last couple of years, coinciding with a big increase in the number of dog walkers, Foxes being the main predator for the Rabbits and would so naturally balance their numbers. 


One of last years youngsters (below), taken last spring at the same warren now abandoned above.


As I wondered around the ‘Nature Reserve’ I realised just how little I am seeing in many of the areas that are supposedly devoted to sanctuaries to wildlife as there is a growing number of dog walkers taking these areas over.  On this day, I encountered one every few minutes, the air was full of the sound of dogs barking and their owners shouting or swearing at their dogs.  Within a minute of my getting here, a van drove up and the owner let loose two large dogs which immediately ran off, one of which made a bee line for me, barking and growling – the owner wasn’t bothered.  I’m convinced the massive increase in dogs and their owners lack of responsibility has resulted in demise of Foxes and in the last few years, seeing owners allowing their dogs chase after young and nesting birds on the lake, a disappearance of much of the bird life too. I might add that, although dogs are allowed in these areas, there are signs saying that they should be kept under control.

As I walked around, I saw a small group of Roe Deer in a nearby field.  As I approached, another walker with two dogs also came by and allowed one of his dogs get through the fence and into the field to chase them, though he did shout at it to call it back, the deer already decided to head off.


There is no question in my mind that there is a direct link between the lack of, in particular, ground dwelling animals and the number of dogs around.  When an animal like a Roe Deer or Fox see’s a human, it may see it as a possible danger and will move out of the way, but people usually just walk along paths, often being oblivious that there was anything even around, so the animal isn’t particularly stressed.  However a dog runs around, does not stick to paths and will happily chase anything is finds, creating stress for that animal.  It probably has some instinctive thought relating a dog to being a natural predator as wolf would naturally be.

I also know one location I go where no dogs are allowed, you are guaranteed to see the likes of Roe Deer and a good chance also of seeing Foxes.  I’m afraid there is probably no going back as these public areas are owned by local councils who don’t have the courage to ban dogs from any part of these so called wildlife reserves and even if they did, wouldn’t have the means to police and enforce any banning, especially now with the growing cut backs and staffing.


It wasn’t all gloom on this day. As I started to make my way out, I glimpsed a Red Squirrel. I thought in these woods they had disappeared with the steady invasion of the Greys.  There was only one and maybe it wasn’t resident, but as it climbed along the tree canopy above me, it stopped to look down and gave me that typical, plucky Red Squirrel scolding before disappearing.  It would be nice to think that they might be making a come back and re-colonising these woods.



  1. Cracking report Frank, you should join Chris Packham and friends! Lol Darren.

  2. The subject of the lack of rabbits was brought up yesterday at my golf club . Last year there were hundreds of young and mature rabbits on the course, so many that they were at times in danger of being injured by stray golf balls . This year not a single rabbit has been seen.The other wildlife such as squirrels have remained as prolific as ever.Whats happened ?

  3. From my own observations their populations regularly fluctuate, probably down to disease and predation. Usually they bounce back again the following or next year, but some places I've noticed they don't ever return or at least to their original numbers. In the case of the golf course, they were deemed a nuisance and action was taken against them.

  4. I've noticed this too. I travel across the whole country regularly and have noticed this is not a localised problem but much more wide spread. Myxomatosis finally taken its toll? I have seen one baby rabbit under a bush in an industrial estate in Peterborough other han that it is worrying how few there are out and about. Perhaps the re-introduction of Red Kites is the cause as they seem to be doing suspiciously well.

  5. Interesting that you have found it more widespread. A year from this post and their numbers are still down. I don't think the Red Kites are a cause as Rabbits aren't typically their prey unlike Buzzards, though I don't believe a natural predator would cause this demise so quickly as nature tends to balance things out. I believe in this particular location disease and human intervention is to blame. Coincidently, all the birds that nested on a nearby lake, also went at the same time. I'll keep visiting the area and see what happens.