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Wild Rabbits and the Landowner

The wild rabbit is a pest, according to government guidelines and estimates given by the National Farmers Union, there is an estimated one hundred million pounds worth of damage caused by wild rabbits in the countryside and because of this rabbits are given few protections at law.

It is well known that at times of great need the rabbit warren and the warrener who is a respected member of the local community and particularly during the last war, rabbit produced a large proportion of the meat consumed by countryside folk.  However, the whole of England and Wales, with the exception of the City of London, the Isles of Scilly and the Skokholm Island (for whatever reason), is designated a rabbit clearance area and it is known that numbers are increasing as the effects of myxomatosis, the disease introduced in the 1950s to reduce the rabbit population which was devastatingly effective in the 50s and 60s though it now having less effect as the rabbit population obtain limited immunity to the disease.

Under the Pest Act of 1954 all occupiers of land have a continuing obligation to kill or take any wild rabbits living on it, methods of doing so can include gassing, ferreting, trapping and snaring as well as shooting.  Under legislation going back to the 19th century a land occupier and one other person, such as a member of his household staff (in those terms the household servant) can shoot rabbits found on the property that they occupy.  However, this is now strictly limited by the number of people able to do so under the modern gun control and ownership regulations.

Though rabbits have little protection at law if they are trapped they are temporarily defined as “protected” meaning that the trapper cannot be cruel to them, such as tormenting or leaving them for long periods to suffer and traps need to be inspected daily.

The value of wild rabbits should not be overlooked particularly with the sale in specialist restaurants in the City and by the local game merchant.

If any reader requires further information on these matters or gun law generally please contact Douglas Godwin email  telephone 01386 760660

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