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In The Market, by Mark Leslie, November 20, 2018

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Where have all the rabbits gone? I noticed that was the question posed by a letter writer to this paper the other day, but it also came up at Mark Steel’s In Town performance at the St George’s Guildhall earlier this month.

Rabbit in the long grass. Photo: Edward Hayman (5517711)
Rabbit in the long grass. Photo: Edward Hayman (5517711)

The Hardwick roundabout bunnies were one of the peculiarities noted by the comedian in his hilarious upsum of Lynn life.

He read out a contribution to a local air rifle enthusiasts’ blog about menacingly circling around the roundabout and eyeing up the rabbits.

Mark Steel mentioned that he hadn’t seen any rabbits on the roundabout and wondered if the air rifles had got them all.

Certainly taking a look the other day as I drove around the Hardwick, I could see precious little sign of the creatures.

Which is a pity. The rabbits on the roundabout to me kind of welcome you into the town when you arrive. It would be a pity if they were to disappear.

But no doubt by the very nature of their somewhat precarious abode, populations go up and down. Hopefully they will take a turn for the better soon.

The fear is that something sinister may have wreaked havoc with their numbers. Myxomatosis is still endemic among the rabbit population in England, a truly horrible man-made disease that eliminated 99 per cent of the rabbit population.

Even more worryingly there is now reports that myxomatosis is now presenting in hares, which it has never done before since the disease appeared in the 1950s.

The University of East Anglia, in Norwich, which has been taking a lead in investigating the spread of myxomatosis to brown hares in the Eastern counties, last month appealed to wildlife trusts to report back on deaths across the region.

East Anglia is considered a vital location for the brown hare, which has declined by more than 80 per cent across the country over the past century and has nearly vanished entirely from the southwest. It would be so tragic if brown hares were lost from our fields. They are wonderful creatures, eccentric in every way, not just in their madness, displayed around the March breeding season.

Intensification of agriculture and loss of habitat has already led to a sharp decline in their numbers, not to mention hunting (legal and illegal).

It is estimated there are about 700,000 brown hares living wild across the country. That sounds a lot but with the population already under considerable stress, the introduction of such a deadly disease as myxomatosis could be a final straw.

Please keep your eye out for signs when seeing them out and about in the country and let’s hope the more prosaic bunnies of the Hardwick make a return soon.

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