Rabbits hopping about in our fields and hedgerows are part and parcel of our daily country scene. You cannot travel far without seeing them. Even if you don’t see any, it is very evident where they have recently been. Hedge bottoms and scooped out burrows in grass fields will reveal their entrances. Grass as well as crops will be grazed within a wide area to finish up looking like a lawn surrounding their burrows. In meadows “scrapes” will have been dug which effectively kills the sward. Left entirely to their own life style within months an elaborate warren will develop, the residents of which will take some moving on! Richard Adams in his wonderful book ”Watership Down” gave human attributes to a colony of rabbits. Many people, usually of an urban persuasion, see only cuteness and fluffy bobtails. The realism is that without a measure of human control, the recent proliferation of Richard Adam’s “Hazel, Thumper, Dandelion and friends” will, as previously in Australia, become a menace to the countryside. They will convert large areas to barren heartland. Unlike some of our wild life species, which have fallen victim to modern farming practice, rabbits seem to thrive on it. There is a theory that the fox and rabbit population go hand in hand. Large numbers of rabbits means a good food supply for the fox. Mr. Reynard thrives and breeds, so more foxes require more rabbits! Consequently the rabbit population declines so with the food supply dwindling, so do the number of foxes. I wonder? Acting on that principle that “enough is enough” some local farmers has had a blitz on the proliferating hordes during the quieter winter months. Consequently where this has taken place, the rabbit population will have markedly diminished. Notices warning dog walkers of the “campaign” would have been appreciated! There is no pleasant aspect to these necessary culls. I think there is a fortune waiting for anyone who can introduce a form of “birth control” into the warrens of our “Watership Down”.
The frosts and snow of January brought into our garden and on to our bird feeders the usual blue tits, chaffinches, starlings, blackbirds and robins.. It is at this time I am always on the lookout for any unusual species, made bold by the cold weather and need to find food. Sadly this year I have seen nothing exciting. No blackcaps, nuthatches or tree creepers. Neither have I seen a song thrush... However, there have been plenty of visiting redwings and fieldfares in the meadow behind our garden, coming for the winter from Scandinavian countries. Have you cleared out the old nests from your garden nest boxes, I wonder? It is truly amazing the amount of moss, feathers and so on, that go towards making a blue tits nest. but they do prefer a fresh start each year.
As fascinating as it is to travel far and wide, as many of our parishioners know, not far from your own back door there can be some quite interesting revelations. All through the winter months I have watched gathered in the narrow gap between a gate and its post, a colony of twenty two spot ladybirds. Each just a few millimeters long, it is a delight to view and marvel at their perfection through a magnifying glass.