Every June it happens. One day we walk around the fields and there they are - rabbits with Myxomatosis. Yesterday we didn't see a single one; today they are everywhere in our fields.
It is a cruel disease and I for one find it inexcusable that it was introduced. The Myxomatosis virus was first discovered in 1896 in Uruguay. Because Australia had a terrible problem with rabbits, the virus was deliberately imported into there in the early 1950's and it almost wiped out the entire population of rabbits.
In 1952 it was deliberately imported into France and by 1953 it had arrived in the UK - nobody is prepared to say whether it arrived by chance (it is spread by flying insects and rabbit fleas) of whether it was deliberately brought in. The disease ran its course and wiped out over ninety percent of the UK population of wild rabbits.
But, of course, those who were not killed by it developed an immunity to it and bred - like rabbits. So now we have a population of rabbits here who get the disease each year - the fittest survive (or do not get it because of immunity) - the others die.
And, believe me, if you have not seen a rabbit dying of 'myxy' then you have no idea what an inhuman and cruel death they have. Personally I do not think anything justifies deliberately inflicting this awful disease on the wild population of an animal which most of us view with a kind of Beatrix Potter affection.
Over the next few months this morning's debacle will be re-enacted here on the farm many times over in various forms. Tess, who is absolutely no good at catching rabbits but likes to give them a run for their money (they usually let her get quite close before they run and then stand by their burrow clutching their sides with laughter at her inept attempts), spotted a young, half grown rabbit and chased it. It ran, hesitantly, blundered into the wire fencing, bounced off it, blundered a bit further up the field and repeated the exercise, squealed as she caught it. The farmer by this time was just behind her, took it off her and despatched it quickly and humanely - it was blind and festering. Frankly no animal should be put through that - wild or tame, a pest or not.
We pay someone who is a good shot to despatch our rabbits when they get too numerous. OK, occasionally they might only 'wing' one and it might die a slow death. But in the majority of cases it is a good, clean death, over in a minute - the carcase often collected the same day by a local vixen looking for food for her brood.
I realise that any animal which is reputed to eat so much grass (they say ten adult rabbits eat as much grass as one cow) needs to be kept under strict control. But seeing a field full of festering, blind, crippled rabbits sitting waiting to be put out of their misery (the farmer always kills any that he comes across - quickly and humanely) is in no sense justified.