Wild Rabbit Population Declines 60% in 20 years

May 15th, 2018

You may have caught a little snippet in the media today about the decline in the wild rabbit population in the UK.

Survey results from The British Trust for Ornithology (they study mammals too) show that the population of wild rabbits has declined 60% in the last 20 years, and 5% in the last 12 months.

wild rabbit population uk

You can view more population statistics on the BTO website here.

It’s normal for the population to fluctuate, but this long term decline is more worrying. It’s not just about the rabbits themselves, but also the role they play with in the wider ecosystem. The BBC interviewed Paul Stancliffe (BTO) who explained that this level of decline would also have an impact on other species, for example rare bird species that nest in the short cropped grass habitats created by wild rabbit grazing. Yes, those wild rabbits are doing an important job!

Why has the wild rabbit population declined?

The main cause is Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD), which is something that’s been around since the early 90’s. Although other causes like Myxomatosis played a part too.

You may have already heard about a new strain of VHD, called VHD2. It’s not just our pets that these diseases effect but also the wild population. Luckily for our pet rabbits we can vaccinate to protect them from disease. If you are in the UK and haven’t yet vaccinated your rabbit speak to your vet about it asap!

How can you help

Mammal-MapperThe Mammal Society have developed an app called the Mammal Mapper, which will help them access population numbers and monitor long term trends. They’d like you to download and use it to record sightings of wild rabbits.

Fiona Mathews, Chair of the Mammal Society and Professor of Environmental Biology at Sussex University explains “What we need people to do is to go on a walk or bike-ride (an evening outing of about 45 minutes is ideal) and record the mammals they see. By recording the route taken, the App will let us work out the densities of animals in different habitats. This is a unique feature of the Mammal Mapper app and will be hugely valuable for conservation. Previously we had no way of working out whether a sighting was submitted because an animal was common, or because people were excited to see it because it was rare. It was also difficult to pin down the precise habitat where the mammal was seen. New technology means that this is all now really easy on a smart-phone.”.

So if you are out foraging for your rabbit or just enjoying an evening stroll, download the app and record any wild rabbits you spot.

How to Weave a Willow Ring (DIY Willow Toys)

June 29th, 2017

If you read Bunny Mad Magazine you may have noticed I’ve been writing a regular article with an enrichment idea (and some behaviour tips). Here’s one I’ve shared plus some extra photos – I think this is one many bunnies will be rather pleased with.

Rabbit’s love willow toys, but they can be quite expensive particularly when they are often chewed and shredded in no time at all. So I had a little experiment to see how easy it would be to make my own willow rings, and the answer is very.

For this activity you’ll need some willow and some secateurs (or tough scissors – bunny nail clippers might work at a pinch).

Step 1: Find some Willow

You can buy dry willow for weaving – the stuff that’s used in basket making. This will work fine for toys, but you’ll need to do a little more preparation as it needs soaking first to make it flexible again. The place you buy it from should be able to give you tips on how to do this – time for soaking varies between willow types (from what I’ve read).

The trouble with buying willow is you’ll still be paying for willow toys, although it will probably work out cheaper. You may have noticed my preference is for bunny toys that are free. So instead I recommend finding a willow tree and cutting some fresh branches yourself.

This is what willow looks like:

willow tree

It has long slender leaves and the branches are yellowish brown and bendy – they’ll fold in half without snapping. You get weeping willows (pictured), whose branches hang down as well as ones that look like normal trees.

Do check the rules on foraging where you live – if you aren’t allowed in public spaces try asking around to see if anyone has one in their garden they are pruning.

Step 2: Prepare Your Willow

So you’ve found a willow tree, and been given some weird looks by your neighbours as you carry home your haul of willow – it should look something like this:

cutting willow for weaving

Now you need to do a little processing to get it ready for weaving. If you’re cutting willow whilst it has leaves, I’d suggest removing them – at least for your first go. It makes it easier to see what you are doing. If you run your hand down the branch backwards (from tip to where you cut it) the leaves come off easily. You can feed the leaves to your bunny to distract them whilst you continue with your willow weaving. They also dry well for feeding in smaller portions later.

Once you’ve removed the leaves (or if you cut after the leaves have fallen) it should look like this:


This isn’t long straight willow grown for weaving, so it’s got quite a few forks and bendy bits. That’s ok though, we aren’t trying to make a pretty basket. To make it easier to work with, just run down each piece and cut at the forks.


For a 6″ (15cm) ring you’ll need pieces about 2.5′ (75cm) long. In other words, long enough to make a full circle and another half (3.14 x the diameter of the ring x 1.5 if you’d like the maths). You can get away with slightly shorter, but it’s always easier to have a little spare to cut off than not enough. For thickness 3-4mm seems to be the maximum to bend easily for a 6″ ring; go a little thinner for a smaller one. As long as you have several pieces roughly the right length and thickness, you can use thinner and shorter pieces to bulk it up. Please don’t worry about getting the perfect length/width willow, I’ve just added the details as a guide, cut some and experiment – it will probably work just fine.

Step 3: Tie a Knot

We’re ready to move on to the exciting bit – actually making the willow ring. First, pick your favourite piece of willow. A nice even width, longish bit that’s nice and bendy. Then, tie a lose knot in it. That makes your ring. This first circle decides the size of your willow ring, so adjust it to how big you want.

willow knot

Step 4: Weave the Ends In

Next you need to wrap the spare ends of your knotted piece of willow around the circle. Just wrap it round and round. Once you are done you should have something that looks like a very skinny willow ring. (I’ve digitally coloured the bits I’m talking about in blue to help you follow – that’s not some weird species of willow tree)

weaving willow ring

Step 5: Add Your Next Piece

Take another piece of willow and tuck it a couple of inches under one side of the ring, from the inside out. That will hold the end in place as you wrap it around the ring, like you did for the ends of the first piece. Again, you can see me adding a new piece here in blue.

weaving willow hoop

Keep wrapping it around from there until you get to the end, don’t worry about the last bit sticking out – you can trim it later if you want.

Step 6: Add Lots more pieces

Now you just need to repeat step 5 with more pieces of willow until you are happy with how your ring looks.

willow ring

Your rabbit will be perfectly happy with the willow ring you’ve made, but if you think it looks a little untidy compared to the shop bought rings, all you need to do is snip off the sticky out bits.

And that’s it – it seems a bit tricky at first but once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll need need to buy a willow ring again!

Let me know how you get on if you give it ago.





Foraging for Rabbits – Dandelion, Nettle, Blackberry, Plantain & Herb Robert

June 6th, 2017

We’ve had some lovely weather recently (and some rain) and everywhere is bursting with new growth and tasty looking plants. Foraging has really kicked off amongst the rabbit community and that’s great because it has so many benefits for rabbits – all the different tastes, textures and smells make great enrichment and leafy greens full of different vitamins and minerals are good for their digestion and physical health. Plus, it’s good fun for humans too.

I wrote a post on 5 easy to ID weeds ages ago, and now I want to expand and cover some more. So here are five more rabbit safe weeds and a video at the end to help you find it easier to identify them.


forage dandelion

This is a dandelion  (Taraxacum officinale), they are very common and grow in all sorts of places – you might even have them in your garden. Each stem has a single bright yellow flower on the end and when the flowers die they are replaced with a pompom shaped seed head. The bright green leaves and flower stems all radiate out from a central point. Rabbits can eat the leaves, stems and flowers, and you can dry the leaves for eating later.

Stinging Nettle

stinging nettle

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) grow in big swathes often at the bottom of hedges or tucked under trees. They usually grow in big clumps, around 2 to 3 foot tall. Even if you don’t feed them to your rabbit it’s handy to be able to identify them as they’ll cause a stinging rash if you accidentally brush against them. That doesn’t deter rabbits though; they seem immune to the stings and consider these a tasty snack. They have pointed leaves serrated along the edges; the tassels near the top are flowers. You’ll need gloves and long sleeves to pick them, but they also dry well for winter.



Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus), or brambles as they as sometimes called, are one of the best plants for rabbits – they have tasty fibrous leave that are great for those with sensitive tummies. They can often be found in hedgerows and under trees. They have thick leaves on long arching stems with lots of spikes (be careful when cutting them). The leave in the photo are quite bright green and shiny as they are new growth. They get darker and duller as they age. From May they’ll have white/pale pink flowers, and as the petals fall away, small green berries appear that grow and turn shiny black. Rabbits can eat the stems and the leaves (they’ll even manage those prickles) and the leaves dry well for winter.

Plantain (Ribwort)

plantain types

This is plantain (Plantago lancelolata/major), it often grows among grass and along side grassy paths, so the long flower heads can make it easier to spot, they are a long stem with a little tuft on the end. Plantain is sometimes called ribwort because the thick leaves have rib like veins running down the length of them. If you tear a leaf you’ll find they are stringy a bit like celery. That is narrow leaf plantain on the left and broad leaf plantain on the right, the leaves are very similar accept short and fat instead of long and thin. Both can be fed fresh or dried for later.

Herb Robert

forage herb robert

Lastly, this is Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) and its part of the geranium family. It’s little less common, at least where I live, but the bright pink – five petal – flowers are easy to spot. The leaves remind me a little bit of parsley in shape, with lots of splits and they sometimes have a red tinge to the edge. Like the other plants you can feed it fresh or dry.


To make identifying them a little easier, here is a video showing clips of each plant:

Let me know if the video is helpful and I’ll add some more to my to do list.

Do you forage? What are your bunnies favourite plants to pick?





Rabbit Welfare Statistics – PAW Report 2017

May 27th, 2017

The PDSA have just released their 2017 PAW (PDSA Animal Wellbeing) Report. This report looks closely at the welfare of pet dogs, cats and rabbits in the UK by surveying owners and vets. It’s fascinating stuff because it provides statistics that let you track key welfare trends like neutering and diet over the last 7 years. If you’ve ever wondered “are things getting better?” this report can give you a firm yes or no. You can see my review of previous years reports here.



To report uses two key factors to judge the quality of rabbits’ diets – whether rabbits are fed pellets or muesli (studies have shown muesli is less healthy than pellets) and whether rabbits eat enough hay (a portion about the size of their body).

The good news is that there has been a significant decline in people feeding muesli, from 49% in 2011 to 25% in 2017. This probably reflects the amount of publicity about the downsides to muesli around 2013, which led to some stockists and pet food manufacturers stopping sales. The bad news is most of that decline was in 2013/14 and the proportion feeding it has remained fairly static since.

There is also good news on hay, the amount of rabbits not eating a suitable sized portion has declined from 42% in 2011 to 31% in 2017. Again though, there is still a stubborn portion that aren’t feeding enough hay and it’s actually risen slightly from a low of 26% in 2013/15.

This years Rabbit Awareness Week (17-25th June) is focusing on diet. The great thing about the PAW Report is we’ll be able to look at the 2018 one and see if it has any influence. Part of the difficulty with improving welfare is you have rabbit owners that look out for new information and are therefore easy to reach, but also a group who aren’t getting the welfare messages. One of the things the report highlighted is that there is a big split between the welfare of rabbits that are registered with a vet and not e.g. only 17% of rabbits registered with a vet are fed muesli, where as 41% not registered with a vet are fed muesli. Vets are a really valuable information source for how to care for your pet properly – not just somewhere to go when your bun is sick.


Rabbits are social animals so another key gauge of welfare is whether they have a companion. In 2017 44% of rabbits have a companion, a rise from 33% in 2011. Whilst that’s still quite low it’s nice there has been an increase.

The 2016 report had a little more detail on the living arrangements of bunnies:

52% Lived on their own
20% Lived with a rabbit of the opposite sex
17% Lived with a rabbit of the same sex
3% Lived with more than one rabbit of different sexes
1% Lived with more than one rabbit of the same sex
1% Lived with one or more guinea pigs

Note the similar numbers living with the same sex and opposite sex – this is interesting as matching up opposite sex neutered rabbit’s is what’s most frequently promoted. Of those rabbits living with companions, 64% of the rabbits involved were all neutered and 23% none were neutered – hopefully that later group are from the same sex category!


In 2017 56% of rabbits are neutered, up from 37% in 2011 – there’s been nice steady upwards trend and I imagine it’s helped the upward trend in companionship too. These changes take time, seven years isn’t even the life time of one rabbit so seeing an improvement over what’s really quite a short period is great. As people tend to be reluctant to neutered older animals, it’s hopefully a sign that more young rabbits are being neutered and therefore the total neutered will continue to grow.


The first few PAW reports just looked at whether rabbits were vaccinated or not – 46% vaccinated in 2011. Later reports have split this into primary vaccination (the first one) and boosters. In 2017 50% of rabbits had a first vaccination and 45% regular boosters.

Considering the prevalence of Myxomatosis and the new strain of VHD2 it’s worrying how few rabbits are vaccinated. The reason they aren’t vaccinated is also worrying – 32% said they thought vaccinations were unnecessary and 10% too expensive. Whilst cost isn’t something we can easily fix, if 16% of rabbits are unvaccinated because their owner didn’t realise it was necessary then we need to do some more education!


Indoor v outdoor can be a bit of a hot topic. In general the UK tends to see living outdoors as more normal for rabbits than some countries i.e. the US. So 41% of rabbits living predominantly inside was higher than I would have guessed.

I think it’s important that we don’t equate indoor with good housing and outdoor with bad though. Housing a rabbit inside doesn’t automatically mean it’s environmental needs are met, it’s very much down to the actual environment provided. Overall the report found 35% of rabbits were housed inappropriately, including 15% inside. A small cage is a small cage whether it’s in or out.


Last of all a little snippet on behaviour, a topic I’m rather fond of, so this one interested me – 44% of owners reported their rabbit displayed one or more unwanted behaviours that they’d like to change (including thumping and biting the cage bars). That’s a very high figure. It’s also worrying what that could mean for welfare – unwanted behaviours such as bar chewing can be a sign a rabbit’s needs aren’t being met. When the behaviours make rabbits tough to live with, they can also lead to rabbits being given up to rescues.

If you have a cage bar rattler/chewer I’ve an article on resolving it here: Rabbit Behaviour Problem: Chewing the Cage Bars.


So is rabbit welfare improving? The PAW Report shows that yes it is. We have made some positive progress in quite a short period, whilst there is clearly a lot more to do we have to accept it takes time to filter down education to 1.1 million or so rabbit owners. Those that work hard to educate people about rabbits’ needs should give themselves a pat on the back – keep up the good work it does make a difference!

What do you think are the biggest issues to rabbit welfare and how can we tackle them?

You can download the full report here: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/get-involved/our-current-campaigns/pdsa-animal-wellbeing-report

Scamp 2007 – 2016

November 5th, 2016

Earlier this year Scamp developed a small lump on his side over his ribs, it grew and I made the decision to have it removed, which went well. The biopsy can back showing it was Lymphoma and although unlikely to spread, there was a chance it could reoccur at the same site. It did, in just a few weeks it was back and growing rapidly, we tried again to have it removed but this time Scamp reacted to the anaesthetic and they brought him around without operating.

The lump continued to grow until it was interfering with the movement of his front leg and generally making him miserable. So on 13th September the vet visited him at home and helped him over rainbow bridge whilst he sat on his favourite box and I rubbed his ears.

Here are some of my favourite photos of his time with me…


Nine and a half years ago – eyes closed and small enough to fit in the palm of my hand

sleeping rabbit

Still a baby here and curled up looking adorable

yellow pages 2

Shredding a telephone directory – one of his favourite activities


Adding backup escape routes to all his boxes (or in this case the vet carrier)

scamp sunbathing

Napping in the sunshine resting on my hand… and getting nose rubs when I wasn’t pointing a camera

It's kind of a long way down though!

Jumping off high things

scamp window sill

Finding him in places he really shouldn’t have been able to get to

bunny box

Helping make toys for blog posts

rabbit flop

Racing around the room binkying and then flopping over on my feet for cheek rubs

Scamp was an amazing little wild bunny, even if sometimes the amazing was his ability to chew, escape and generally cause trouble. He taught me a lot about bunnies and their fascinating behaviour (and a lot about bunny proofing) and it’s because of him my book Understanding your Rabbit’s Habits exists and is, hopefully, helping others understand these wonderful creatures a little better too. He’s also been the inspiration for the bunny toys and enrichment ideas, which I’ve posted on this blog and in Bunny Mad Magazine. Inspiration is a nice way of saying I spent a lot of time frantically coming up with ideas to occupy him so he wouldn’t get into quite so much mischief of his own design.


Scamp 2007 – 2016

Good bye little bun, I will miss you a lot.