Rabbit – Orytolagus cuniculus


Originally from Spain and south-west France, the rabbit was brought to England in the 12th century AD by the Normans and kept in captivity in warrens as a source of meat and fur. Many escaped into the wild and eventually become so common that farming them was no longer economic. Helped by fast breeding, a diet of virtually any vegetable matter and persecution of predators, the rabbit slowly established itself in the wild in Britain, despite originally favouring a warmer, drier climate.

In the 1950s, the disease myxomatosis was introduced to curb their numbers and the rabbit almost became extinct, but is once again a common animal of the countryside. It can be a serious pest for farmers, eating and damaging crops.

The male is called a buck and the female a doe. The main predators of rabbits are the stoat and the fox, although young animals also fall to birds of prey and weasels.

Origin: Introduced in the 12th century AD.

Size: Length 40 – 45 cm, ears 8.5 cm.

Description: Compact bodies with long hind legs. Grey/brown fur, white under parts and short white tail.

Habitat: Abundant in grassland areas where the soil allows them to make extensive, well-drained burrows, but also where there are hedges or patches of woodland to give shelter and cover.

Young: 4 – 8 broods of 3 – 9 young, known as kittens, after 28 – 30 days gestation. Young are self-supporting in one month. 90% die in the first year.

Diet: Mainly grass, but also all vegetable matter. Gnaw tree bark in winter months. Re-swallow up to 80% of their faeces to use their food more efficiently in a process known as ‘refection’.

Population: Pre-breeding season estimated to be 40 million.