Trouble with Rabbits…

The gardening elite are increasingly stressing the importance of making our gardens accessible to, and beneficial for, wildlife. It’s a trend I’m pleased to support, because for too long us humans have been working against nature, and to the detriment of the environment (and ultimately, against our own welfare). With so much of the wider landscape being so inhospitable to indigenous creatures, our domestic gardens can potentially make up a vital network of nature reserves.

We should aim to create a balance in our gardens; a good mix of wildlife so that populations of pests are kept in check – we accept limited damage to our plants, in return for a diverse ecosystem, and a healthier environment.

All well and good, but for some wildlife, it’s not that simple. Some of the larger animals are really not compatible with our ideas of what makes a garden. Badgers can make an awful mess of a lawn. Deer will eat almost anything; including tree bark. And so will rabbits.

This is the first year we’ve had significant problems with rabbits, which is surprising considering we have farmland on three sides. Maybe it’s something to do with the regular sound of gunshots that ring out across the fields. That, or the foxes. Or the buzzards. This year though, I’ve noticed more rabbits down the lane. When I saw an adult rabbit on the lawn, I set about putting up fencing to keep them out. There were already various sizes of wire mesh fence around the boundary, in among the mixed field hedges. I added chicken wire, burying it as deep as I could to stop the bunnies from digging under. This seemed to work. Until one day I looked out and there were two baby rabbits! Here’s a shot from the 14th April, with one of the babies munching its way through self-seeded honesty…

Incredibly cute, but very destructive! I blocked up numerous points where they might be getting in. But nothing worked. And when I went out to chase them away, they would disappear, as if into thin air. And then, one day, I watched as one of them ran through my chicken wire fence as if it wasn’t there. It turns out a 50mm mesh isn’t fine enough!

I’ve been intermittently bolstering our defences, each time hopeful that I’ve finally done enough to keep them out… quickly to discover I’ve been unsuccessful. There’s just one, very persistent rabbit now. How ever much I try chasing him away, he never gets the message. Someone suggested buying an air rifle, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that; just look at him…

And yet, as the damage is mounting (raspberry canes, dogwood, the lower shoots and branches of the akebia (chocolate vine), sweet peas…) my inner Elmer Thud is straining to get out!

The rabbit is in the garden so much of the time (and active during the day – I thought they were largely nocturnal?) I’m wondering if there isn’t any point in sealing the garden – he’d be quite happy to live there permanently. There’s lot’s of cover to protect him from the buzzards, and no danger of been shot by the nasty farmer.

And if I am able to find where he’s getting in, when I seal it, how can I be sure he’s out, rather than in, the garden? I’ve had to put tree guards around the trunks of all of the trees. If the rabbit just ate the grass, he’d be welcome to share the garden.

I’m really not sure what to do next. Do I take away all the fences so that he can at least get out easily? Or will he just invite his friends round to join the party? Should I just accept that I’ll need to move towards plants that are largely rabbit proof?

If anyone has any ideas, I’d be very grateful…

text & images © graham wright 2023