Saturday, 24 August 2013

Rabbit problems

Nothing Fiercer Than a Rabbit

Rabbit resistant Acanthus mollis (bear's paw)

      Although, as a child, we had a budgie, I abhor the principle of keeping an animal in a cage. However, on one occasion, I saw such a prisoner extract some sort of revenge on society: it was a rabbit. How anyone can think it right to restrict an animal born to roam fields and woodlands to the confines of a five foot box with a wire-netting front is beyond me. An aunt and uncle of mine didn't agree and kept a large white rabbit called Bumper as a pet, salving their consciences by saying that 'he's safe from foxes'. I had a theory that they'd have liked to call him 'Humper', but his solitary confinement made this reference to his main pleasure in life meaningless, so the H had surrendered to the more respectable B.

      This particular aunt and uncle were going away on holiday and happened to ask me if I'd look after their rabbit. I agreed, thinking I'd give Bumper a time to remember: a holiday of his own, so I collected the hutch and its resident and took them home in the back of my old G.P.O. van.

      Re-situated in our Timperley back garden, Bumper looked longingly out at my herbaceous border and I devised a cunning plan to give him a bit more freedom. We had a dog's lead and, from somewhere, my wife spirited up a cat collar. The perfect answer: If you can take a dog a walk, why not a rabbit? It didn't seem a good idea to take him to the park or wander along the street - too many dogs with a penchant for bunnies - so we walked round the garden and he happily enriched it with his home-made black marbles. Unfortunately, when it came time for me to carry him back to the hutch, he wasn't too keen (I think he'd imagined the next step was the herbaceous border). Anyway, he illustrated his disgust by giving me a stony look and kicking vigorously before biting me on the hand. I didn't know rabbits could bite but, having read ad nauseum about how Peter decimated Mr McGregor's vegetable plot, I should have known better - you don't suck cabbages.

      There were two spots of blood on the bite and I would have been quite happy to wash and forget. However my wife heroically overlooked the advantage that lockjaw may shut me up for a bit and despatched me to the local A&E to get a tetanus jab. As usual, there was a queue, so I got in it and was waiting my turn at the desk when a bloke in football kit came and stood behind me, tottering a bit on his studs. He was ashen white, gasping and obviously couldn't breathe properly. Then he leaned on the wall and I thought he was going to fall over.

      "I think my rib's gone through the lung", he croaked when he saw me looking.

      Meanwhile the woman behind the desk was going through the rigmarole with the person in front of me, asking  Christian name, surname, address, next of kin, mothers maiden name, great grandfather's DNA profile - the usual stuff essential to a cure, before finally asking what was wrong. The next step was to sit in a crowd of about twenty people and wait for treatment or death - whichever came first.

      "I think you'd better see to this bloke now" I butted in, "he's in a bad way".

      She looked at him, rolled her eyes then finished the rest of the inquisition on the bloke before me, sending him to sit down with the rest of the dying and wounded. Then, with a deep sigh, she came round the desk, borrowed a chair from the main waiting area and plonked perforated lung on it before starting my check list.

      "Christian name?" she began.

      "Don't you think.....", I said worriedly, looking at the footballer

      "Christian name?" she repeated, louder and with a steely look in her eye. A forced bubbling breath, sounding a bit like a last one, came from the David Beckham chair.

      Hurriedly I went through the list with her, lowering my voice when she got to the "what's wrong?" bit.

      "Er, I was bitten by a rabbit", I said.

      "What?", she said, looking interested for the first time.

      "Rabbit", I whispered, I was bitten by a rabb......"

      "BITTEN BY A RABBIT?", she bellowed, much to the enjoyment of the assembled dead and wounded - their day had just got marginally better. I was tempted to change the rabbit to a boa constrictor but it was too late and, in any case, I wasn't sure whether they bite or squeeze you to death.

      Perforated lung slithered off his chair.

Alchemilla mollis flowers (centre right foreground) - rabbit resistant.
      Unfortunately the Disneyish attraction of rabbits wears off a bit when they take to decimating your garden. It's not a problem in my suburb of Manchester but I get a lot of queries from people a bit further into the sticks. Apparently the most effective control method is to put a ring of wire netting around the area you want to protect. It should be 4 to 5 feet high with a further foot flat against the surrounding soil to prevent burrowing.

      Trees and shrubs can also be damaged by rabbits eating the bark. If they strip it off right round the trunk the plant will die, as water won't be able to move up from the roots. Again, ringing the tree with wire netting will prevent damage, as will the tubes sold specially for the purpose.

Alchemilla mollis foliage 
      The R.H.S. have compiled a comprehensive list of plants which tend not to be attacked by rabbits: , and this may be the easiest answer to the problem, though I've heard that, in extreme conditions, the animals will broaden their menu in desperation. Generally speaking, they don't like aromatic plants (which includes a lot of herbs), spiny plants or those like Euphorbia which ooze milky sap.

The berries of Skimmia japonica - a rabbit resistant shrub
      Grazers is a spray- on product which, the makers claim, lasts six weeks. This makes the plants unpalatable to rabbits and can be safely used on food crops. Intriguingly Garlic Wonder Rabbitoff has a similar effect, though I wonder if this is just because their friends won't go near them after they've eaten some. This is also advertised as giving some fungicidal defense to the plant, as well as deterring deer and pigeons.

Roe deer - deterred with 'Graser'
      A final thought on this: some time ago my wife, displaying remarkably bad taste, bought a farting gnome for a friend with equally bad taste. Anything passing within four feet got a high decibel windbreak. The fact that he was overjoyed with this, leading guests past it in order to embarrass them (two of them thought they must have done it themselves and apologised), is by the by. The point is that, situated near the herbaceous border, it might scare rabbits off.

1 comment:

  1. What do you mean by 'bad taste'? My farting gnome was the best present ever, according to the recipient. Be careful what you say - you have a birthday coming up and I might just get a bit creative rather than get you the camera lens you want!
    Carol x