After yesterday's Bird Race the sun came out and it looks like it's going to stay out this week. I pulled up a deckchair last night, after sorting out the Bird Race scores, and sat listening to 'my' Blackbird singing in the neighbour's apple tree.
For some reason I started to think about Rabbits. I think it may have been because Sue Curnock sent in this photo a Rabbit she had taken during the Bird Race.
I've never seen a Rabbit in the garden. In fact I haven't seen a Rabbit in a long time. Now that I think of it, there's a lot of things I haven't seen in a long time because I've been sat here, confined to this cul-de-sac for almost 100 days.
It's been a very surreal 100 days. Since 18 March I've sat here and watched as a virus spread and shut down the entire planet.
I was fascinated and horrified 100 days ago by the stories that emerged which blamed the illegal trade in pangolins in Chinese 'wet markets' for starting the spread of the disease. These endangered animals are captured, killed and consumed for their non-existent medicinal properties and, so I read, facilitated the spread of the virus "from their world to ours". And I think that's the problem, our belief that we are somehow seperate from nature when in reality everything is connected.
Maybe it was thinking about viruses, chaos and man's interference with nature that led me on to thinking about Rabbits.
Photo by Roger Wilmshurst
Rabbits are such a regular sight in Sussex that it’s hard to believe they could be rare anywhere, but down in Spain they’ve hopped onto the endangered species list. This must be rather embarrassing for the Spanish because Spain (along with Portugal and North Africa) are the ancestral homes of the Rabbit. Indeed the word ‘Spain’ (or España, por favor) means “land of the Rabbits”.
Rabbits were perfectly happy here in their native Iberia and had no plans of moving, so it must have bugged these bunnies when they were rounded up by the Romans and transported all over Europe to be farmed and eaten as a delicacy. The first British Rabbits were carried over the channel 2000 years ago and subsequent waves of invaders bought more. By the 12th century Rabbits had become acclimatised and established in the English countryside. They dug for victory, their burrows and warrens spread across Europe and the hole-y Rabbit empire flourished. For our ancestors, Rabbit meat provided a heartening meal and boy! – was it plentiful.
Photo by Toby Houlton
As we all know, Rabbits breed like, well, Rabbits (which is a pretty rich accusation coming from us, a species whose population has doubled since 1970). The male (buck) and female (doe) can produce seven litters of 4-8 kittens each year. It doesn’t take a statistician to work out that quickly adds up to many millions of munching mouths eating our crops and countryside; and presenting economic and ecological problems worldwide. But despite being despised, the Rabbit also became domesticated and adored. A journey from pot to pest to pet.
Photo by Toby Houlton
This all-powerful Rabbit tsunami seemed unstoppable; but they hadn’t counted on one man: Monsieur Armand-Delille. This Parisian professor hated the Rabbits on his small country estate so in 1952 he injected one pair of them with a new disease called Myxomatosis. This spark started an inferno. In just one year these two simple injections inadvertently led to the death of 90% of all the Rabbits in Europe. As we have all learnt in the past 100 days, never underestimate the power of a virus.
The virulent flea-borne Myxomatosis did not discriminate and back in Iberia the original Spanish Rabbits were wiped out too. Against other pressures their population there has never recovered.
Photo by Dave Kilbey
As our destruction and consumption of the natural world continues and we interfere with the fragile balance of life on Earth we are making ourselves increasingly susceptible not just to viruses but to untold environmental catastrophes.
I'd like to think that the last 100 days has taught us all a lesson and that we will emerge from this with a new respect for nature and our planet.
But I have the feeling that, even after the global chaos caused by Covid-19, we're still not listening to the warning Mother Nature is sending us.
From 1987 here's an R.E.M song about chaos and a planet that's 'trying to tell us something we don't know' (here)