Andrew Fallan: On rabbits

PUBLISHED: 12:37 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 12:37 08 August 2016

Andrew Fallan discusses rabbits

Andrew Fallan discusses rabbits


Andrew Fallan shares his expertise on Essex wildlife. This month he talks about rabbits


Although I’m not really a big reader of fiction, one of my favourite books is Watership Down by Richard Adams. This classic of children’s literature follows the adventures of a band of rabbits who, thanks to the prophetic foresight of one of their number, flee the impending destruction of the warren to seek a better life elsewhere in their very own promised land. With danger and adversity never very far away, they are beset by all manner of perils along the way – most notably from their own kind – which makes for a gritty tale of heroism, conflict and survival against the odds, set against an enchanting rural backdrop and imbued with a rich rabbit folklore and stirring mythology. This gripping novel also makes us think twice about an all-too-familiar species that many of us dismiss as being of little interest, with others undoubtedly regarding these animals as the bane of farmers and therefore best off served in a pie. In fact, rabbits are more fascinating than most of us would imagine.

Perhaps surprisingly, rabbits are not actually native to these isles, having been brought here by the Normans in the 12th century as a source of meat and fur. Now a familiar part of the countryside, they can be readily seen in a variety of habitats, sometimes in large numbers, seeming to be especially noticeable along field margins and grassy roadside verges, with even the tiniest babies nibbling vegetation only a matter of feet from the thunder of passing traffic.

Rabbits are highly social animals, living in communal warrens of up to 100 individuals, with females, known as does, doing most of the digging. Within such large communities – the equivalent of our own towns and villages – there will be distinct social groups and also a clear hierarchy. The dominant males, or bucks, have the pick of the does, which they scent-mark by spraying with urine as a prelude to mating, while only the high-ranking does will have access to the best and most secure nest chambers. Both sexes can be aggressive, with competition between does for nest sites sometimes resulting in serious injury or death. In fact, does will attack and even kill young rabbits, known as kits, that are not their own, while bucks will intervene to protect the young, irrespective of whether they fathered them or not.

Rabbits are, of course, prodigious breeders. Reaching sexual maturity at three to four months old, they will breed from January through to August, with the does – which may be pregnant again a mere 30 minutes after giving birth – able to produce up to eight litters during this time, each consisting of three to seven kits. Such an astounding reproductive capacity is clearly of great advantage for a prey animal, especially as up to 90% of rabbits may not survive their first year. It also explains, at least in part, how they were able to claw their way back from the brink when, as recently as 1953, a rabbit apocalypse struck the UK in the form of myxomatosis, a highly infectious disease that reduced the population by a staggering 99%. The fact that these animals are now almost part of the scenery, with some 38 million hopping around the British countryside, is testament to their amazing success as a species.


Although rabbits are undoubtedly fascinating, for me the greatest thing of all is that the young are so delightfully cute, rivalling the most adorable puppies and kittens the Internet has to offer. This may sound like a frivolous and self-indulgent thing to say, while also flying in the face of the unwritten rule that naturalists are not supposed to revel in the cuteness of their subjects. However, it very much appears to be the case that, due to our own evolutionary past, the warm, fuzzy glow we experience when we gawp at baby animals is hardwired in the human brain. Essentially, we have evolved intense feelings of pleasure and affection in response to certain features of our own infants, such as big saucer eyes and a delicate button nose, which impels us to want to scoop them up and take care of them. So strong is this primeval nurturing instinct that it also kicks in when we notice similar features in other species, hence the reason why we have a tendency to melt and go gooey in the face of baby mammals in particular.

Consequently, to disregard or disparage these feelings, even to fail to embrace them, is to deny both our own biology and also an essential part of what makes us human. And if that makes me a sentimental bunny-hugger, then I’m proud to be one!

Andrew Fallan

Andrew Fallan is the author of Winging it - Birding for low-flyers, published by Brambleby Books, and is currently living in Tolleshunt D’Arcy. You can read more from Andrew in Essex Life as he explores our more spectacular species and the wilder locations of Essex as part of this regular monthly column


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Tue, 16:32

We’ve put together 15 questions that will push your knowledge of Essex to the limit - let us know how you’ve done on social media!

Read more
Tue, 14:17

From James Bond to Batman, Essex has been known to bask in a little Hollywood glitz. Here are 19 that have used our county’s incredible locations on the big screen

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Spend Halloween hunting down ghouls and ghosts in the county’s most haunted places and spaces. We pick 10 absolutely terrifying locations to visit this October.

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Chelmsford is on the rise, blossoming from its city status. One iconic landmark which has been part of the landscape for 300 years, and is also enjoying a renaissance, is Hylands House. Petra Hornsby reveals more

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Laurie Page of the Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council shares with us this beautiful six-mile walk around Bradwell’s stunning coastal delights

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

With one of the warmest and driest summers on record, this year has been a difficult one for gardeners. Susie Bulman from The Beth Chatto Gardens at Elmstead Market shares some top tips for plant survival, even in these conditions

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Our county’s remaining windmills stand the test of time as a tribute to a bygone era. Mica Bale highlights some of the best examples in Essex

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Whether you’re looking for a memorable day trip or an impromptu weekend getaway, Essex is a perfect patchwork of all the little things we love about Britain. Proudly showcasing the charm of the county, we pick 13 towns you must visit when planning a trip to Essex

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

This walk from the town of Bures on the Essex and Suffolk border leads you through the Essex countryside to the little villages of Alphamstone and Lamarsh | Words and photos: Laurie Page Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A popular Southend escape game venue has launched a new room inspired by the town’s seafaring past

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search