After an idle summer, my ferrets are looking forward to getting stuck into their winter work, spreading chaos and heartache amongst Dumfries and Galloway’s rabbit population. The farm where we had such fun ferreting last year continued to carry a strong stock of rabbits long after the informal season closed, and I was hopeful that high densities of bunnies might mean that I was in for a sporting winter this year.
Sadly, the first signs of an outbreak of myxomatosis appeared a few weeks ago and it now looks like there could be quite an epidemic. A distorted and unhappy rabbit is not a sight that anyone likes to see, but I am particularly miffed about this outbreak which threatens to damage my ferreting chances this coming winter. From an ecological perspective, rabbits singlehandedly support their own complex tier of predatory animals, so when their numbers drop suddenly, all sorts of other birds and mammals will start to feel the pinch too.
In recent years, myxomatosis is becoming much less devastating as rabbits build up immunities, but there is every chance that when I come to enter my ferrets in October, the boat will have sailed.