Wednesday, 3 November 2010
I wonder why it is traditional to say, "Rabbits!" early on the first day of each month. Does anybody know the answer to that question? I must say that I always say it as soon as I remember it is the first of the month.
I can't think there is a person in the whole of the UK who does not know what a rabbit looks like. They are so common that everyone has seen at least one in their lifetime. Most of us, particularly country-dwellers, have seen thousands if not tens of thousands of the creatures.
As to what we think of them - well opinions differ. Writers like Lewis Carroll, Douglas Adams and Beatrix Potter have anthropomorphised them into dear little creatures. Then there is the wily Brer Rabbit, who always gets the better of his opponents. But in 'real life' they are often the bane of farmer's lives - it is said that ten rabbits can eat as much grass as one cow, and in times when grass is scarce they become a nuisance.
Now and again the farmer invites a man with a gun to go around our fields at dusk and try to clear out some of the rabbits. The phrase "breeding like rabbits" is no idle phrase. If you have half a dozen in a warren at the beginning of the Summer, by the end of Autumn you will be counting them in hundreds unless something catches them. They have plenty of predators.
Our fields this year are riddled with rabbits. Every hedgerow has a continuous stream of rabbit holes and there are one or two warrens - one in the wood, one along the side of a field, where there a large concentrations of them. It is no accident that we seem to have recently acquired a resident buzzard - for the buzzard's favourite food is said to be rabbit. When the shooting party went round looking for pheasant on Saturday they saw a fox in the distance. Foxes are pretty partial to rabbit for lunch too.
Some years ago I came across a phenomenon that I had heard about but never seen. At the bottom of the farm yard is a gate into the pasture. As I stood there I heard a high-pitched scream and when I looked over the gate I saw a rabbit frozen with fear, mesmerised by a stoat a few yards away. I clapped my hands and both disappeared, but judging by the size of our rabbit holes this year, a stoat would have no difficulty in sneaking down one to snatch a rabbit as it slept.
But there is one "person" to whom the word 'rabbit' is a signal for sheer ecstasy. I took the photographs above on our walk this afternoon. What she would do if she actually caught one I really don't know, but boy, does she like trying.