Courthill, Buittle – 24/3/20
In what seems to be a nasty parody of global events, it’s been unsettling to find a number of sick rabbits on the hill where my cattle have stood for the winter. I clocked the first few kits emerging from their holes last week and marked them down as a sign of spring. Young rabbits run beside wheatears and shelduck as the sure-fire indicator of progress as we approach the end of March, and it was a fun buzz to find them wide-eyed and ticklish in the low sun.
But this morning they are sick or dying, and their bodies lie in perfect sleekness in the grass. I discovered a carcass on the track this morning and went to retrieve it. But when I came within a few feet of the body, I realised that it was still alive – twitching and writhing in horrible spasms. I don’t know what sickness or disease lies behind these early purges, but it seems to have become every bit as predictable as spring itself.
The days of rabbits in vast prosperity are over here. They have become scarce and it is notable to find them at all. Their decline is strange and mysterious, and it is worrying not least for the rabbits themselves but also because these animals underpin an entire system of predators and scavengers. I doubt that this illness is the sole cause of their collapse, but it packs a deadly punch and can hardly be underestimated.