It has been disappointing to find the annual crop of rabbits is suddenly in a tailspin. Rabbits move in mysterious ways on the hill, and their population swings between periods of extraordinary boom and sudden, crushing bust. I’ve written on this blog before about liver fluke as a driving cause of population collapse, and I’ve also wondered about coccidiosis and Rabbit Viral Haemorragic disease.
Unfortunately, this year’s nemesis has been old-fashioned myxomatosis. The dogs now catch multiple swollen-headed bunnies on every trip, and it is disheartening to see entire litters of baby rabbits all hunched up and puffy eyed in the rushes. I don’t think I’ve ever known a population of rabbits that was meaningfully controlled or suppressed by predators, and the real limiting factors when it comes to rabbit numbers must be parasites and disease.
Myxy may have been a crucial tool for reducing rabbit populations after the War, but the disease has remained horribly persistent ever since. I can’t help thinking what a waste it is to see rabbits just shrivel up and die in their hundreds when they could easily produce a sustainable crop of food, skin and sport.