In the last few weeks we’ve been getting ready to survey rabbits on five grass heath SSSIs in the Brecks, and had our very first rabbit census outing this week! This process involves counting and mapping the number of active rabbit warrens on each of our nature reserves.
While rabbits may be treated as a pest on nearby farms and golf courses - on the remaining heaths in the Brecks rabbits play a central role in maintaining the open conditions required by so many rare and declining heathland species, including birds like the Stone Curlew, and plants like Spring Speedwell.
These surveys are providing us with important baseline measures for our rabbit enhancement experiments. Data shows that rabbits have been declining rapidly since the 1990s and we want to help reverse this trend, for the benefit of the heathland habitat and its wildlife.
We’re designing a range of experimental treatments to aid rabbit colonisation and breeding, such as providing brash piles for cover, and sand banks for burrowing. Without good quality habitat, dominant female rabbits will purposely limit the breeding activities of younger females, which likely lowers the number of young they can produce.
We’re also installing motion sensor cameras at some sites – look out for a few shots of the furry critters coming soon!