Fencing and Netting
Rabbits usually enter gardens from adjoining common land, farms or woods. Where this is the case, the erection of rabbit-proof fences and gates should be considered. Ideally fences should be of 2.5cm (1-1¼in) wire mesh and 120-140cm (48-54in) in height. The bottom 30cm (12in) is sunk below ground level, with the lower 15cm (6in) bent outwards to stop rabbits tunnelling underneath. Gates and other entrances must also be rabbit-proof and kept closed when not in use. Further advice on the construction of fences and gates can be obtained from a Forestry Commission Technical Guide "Forest Fencing". This is available from Forestry Commission Publications, PO Box 785, Stockport, SK3 3AT. Tel. 0161 4954845
An electric fence designed to keep out rabbits may be practicable in some gardens. This type of fence is available from agricultural merchants.
Where complete fencing is impracticable, it may be possible to protect small areas, such as kitchen gardens, or particularly susceptible plants, such as lilies, by putting less elaborate wire-netting barriers around them. For example individual plants can be protected with netting 90cm (3ft) high, without the need to lay part of the fence on the ground.
Plastic tree guards or wire netting should be used to protect the trunks of young trees and shrubs.
Repellents suitable for spraying on plants are Vitax Stay Off, Doff Wildlife Repellent, Growing Success Animal Repellent and Bayer Cat-a-palt, which contain aluminium ammonium sulphate. This has a bitter taste and so is not suitable for edible plants that are close to harvesting. Repellents seldom give complete protection, particularly during wet seasons or when plants are making active growth.
In areas where rabbits are particularly troublesome, it is advisable to grow plants that are relatively resistant . There is no guarantee that any of the plants listed as resistant will remain free from damage in all conditions. Recent plantings and soft growth in the spring can sometimes be eaten, even if the plants are not susceptible at other times. Gardeners in rabbit-infested areas may get some additional ideas by seeing what plants survive in neighbouring gardens.
Shooting and trapping
Rabbits can be killed by shooting or gassing, but this is generally impractical in gardens and is best carried out by professionals. The same applies to traps and snares, but they can sometimes be used in gardens providing the relevant legal requirements are observed. It is illegal to set spring traps in the open, and they must therefore be placed within the mouth of rabbit burrows. Traps and snares are a hazard to domestic animals and should not be used if cats or dogs are likely to have access to them, unintentional harm to domestic animals can result in prosecution.
There are several types of trap for killing rabbits, or cage traps for capturing them alive, these may be obtained from some garden centres and agricultural merchants. Traps and snares must be set carefully and examined every day, preferably in the early morning and at dusk.
Ferreting is a traditional method of driving rabbits out of their burrows into nets placed over the tunnel entrances. Rabbits are preyed upon by cats, foxes, stoats and some of the larger birds of prey.
An introduced viral disease known as myxomatosis reduced the rabbit population in Britain to a very low level in the 1950s. The disease is still present but it has become less virulent and so kills a smaller proportion of the infected rabbits.