Big thank you from

Where are all the rabbits?

by Paul Cormacain

THERE is a certain spot near Lisburn where rabbits are invariably seen. So we went to look at the rabbits recently, and guess what! There were no rabbits. So humans or dogs had scared them away.

We returned a number of times after that, and always, no rabbits.

So we checked out some other places where rabbits are normally seen, and again, no rabbits. Having spoken to a number of folk about declining rabbit numbers, it is unclear whether the bunnies have disappeared from the places we normally see them, whether they are becoming scarce all over, or whether the dreaded myxomatosis has returned to haunt the furry creatures.

It is a year short of half a century since this dreaded disease was introduced to our rabbits. Porton Downs, or some such hellhole, conjured up this ghastly disease, perhaps to accommodate Australian farmers, because at one time it was believed that an importation of rabbits could help the farmers there. Moral, don't mess too much with Nature.

Some folk here took to myxomotosis , spread it round the countryside, killed enormous numbers of rabbits. The rabbits kept coming back A golf course I know, not near Lisburn, decided to reintroduce myxomotosis a few years ago. In the intervening years, I have never seen a rabbit there, where once they were common.

The occasional rabbit scrape appeared, which would lead me to believe that the odd rabbit passes through. But it does not stay.

We all know what the bunny looks like. But did you ever remark the variety of colouring? The wild rabbit can have a coat of silver-grey, it can be fawn, but partially black varieties are not unknown.

A small creature I have seen more of recently is the field mouse. At the risk of appearing sexist, if a mouse is seen in a house the ladies jump onto chairs and scream. The macho male goes big game hunting, puffing out his chest as a mark of male superiority. Sometimes he even gets the mouse.

The house mouse originated in the East, gradually spread, and took the boat to Britain and Ireland. Blame boats for mice. Mostly, they are unwanted , and unloved, likewise the occasional fieldmouse and shrew who find their way into our homes. And I have seen both indoors.

See a field mouse in the wild, and that is a very different matter. How handsome they look. How agile they look. (Did you ever see them jump off a wall?) How intelligent they look. So field mice I have seen lately are wonderful creatures.

On the subject of animals, the hedgehogs are lying low these days. I have seen one live one, and one dead one, while driving around the countryside of late. Normally I see hedgehogs roaming the streets around the area where I live, or the neighbours tell me about the animal in their gardens. More frequently, we see them in our garden, a spot seemingly attractive to this animal. But not a one this year.

So are the hedgehogs less common this year? Are the field mice more common this year? Are the rabbits more scarce this year? Are the otters more common this year?

I forgot to mention that Joe saw an otter last week, at dusk. He does not want me to reveal where, but the place is not a million miles from Lisburn. Recent reports showed more otters in the Lagan.

This was in the Shaw's Bridge area, but other reports revealed that otters had moved further up the Lagan.

I have spoken to folk who saw otters in the tributaries. This is all very good otter news, and would appear to show that the animal is thriving, his range even expanding slowly. So the field mice and otters are OK. Lets hope the rabbits and hedgehogs do likewise!


Until the 31st May: Family fun searching for safe places for birds to lay their eggs, at Castle Espie, number 028 9187 4146

Friday 16th, Saturday 17th May: Oxford Island Family Sleepover and Barbecue, looking at the night wildlife, why not call 028 3822 2205

Saturday 17th May: Interested in willow weaving? Check out Oxford Island for this activity, phone 028 3822 2205. Breakfast and Birdsong, 0700, Castle Espie, early risers phone 028 9187 4146

Sunday 1st June: A sea trip around some cliffs at Islandmagee, at 1100, bound to be spectacular. Contact Andrew Upton, Wildlife Trust, 028 4483 0282.

Saturday 7th June: Butterfly Conservation goes on the search for the marsh fritillary in County Down, and full details from Ian Rippey on 028 3833 3927.

Ulster Star