If you have read any of my previous blog posts you will be no stranger to the fact that we have a rabbit problem on an industrial scale. There is a warren in one of the abandoned plots adjoining ours. The allotment association has no plans to tackle the issue and has left it to individual plot holders to defend their allotments as best they can.
For a little bit of context, here are the abandoned plots that surround ours:
As you can see, it is perfect rabbit territory.
We have scoured the Internet and plundered the knowledge of friends, family and strangers to try and find a workable solution to saving our vegetables and flowers from the rabbit onslaught (for sometimes that is indeed how it has felt).
Here are our findings. This list is not exhaustive and will probably be added to over time as our research and experience expands.
Rabbit proof fencing
Here is a guide to constructing some hardcore rabbit proof fencing. The previous owners of our plot had installed some a number of years ago but it was in need of repair.
Conclusion: Rabbits bite through wire. They also dig under all fencing. We have wrapped the original perimeter fence in four layers of chicken wire with 1″ holes (small enough to make it difficult for rabbits to get their noses in to nibble).
Do not bother with netting. Rabbits laugh in the face of netting (and plastic sheeting). A recent and disturbing discovery we made was watching rabbits CLIMB fences. Yes, you read that correctly. Rabbits can climb fences. If they cannot move through a barrier by using their weight against it then they will try and climb it. They are particularly fond of pallet fencing. Their favourite is pallet fencing covered in mesh.
We have fenced in our beds as well as the outer perimeter of our plot. This has slowed down the rabbit incursion, but has not totally prevented them. I swear they are like water and can pass through almost any barrier.
Compost heaps and other structures
Rabbits love compost heaps or anything they can hide under. We had carpet covering our turve pile and this made a very good hiding place. The carpet also stank of rabbits so I think they associated it with home.
Rabbits like to burrow under structures that offer overhead protection – we have a wood shed made from three pallets and discovered a rabbit hole underneath. In fact, we had a serial rabbit offender and we could not trace where it came from until we found it under the woodshed. This is our woodshed (with turve pile to the right):
We have not noticed any rabbit activity under our two greenhouses, but these are flush with the ground and offer no security.
Conclusion: We removed the carpet from the site so hopefully our plot now smells less Eau de Rabbit. I also spent days shovelling the remains of the turves into sacks and moving them away from the perimeter fence after a plot holder said they saw rabbits using our turve pile as a springboard to jump over the fence.
We pulled down the woodshed and blocked the rabbit hole as best we could. The tunnel led into the neighbouring plot so hopefully the rabbits will stay that side of the fence. We laid chicken wire flush to the ground before putting the woodshed back in place.
Rabbit resistant plants
The RHS offers a list of plants considered unpalatable to rabbits. We thought we would try a few.
Conclusion: Rabbits cannot read so do not know they are not supposed to like them.
- Alliums – love nibbling the tops
- Artichoke, globe and Jerusalem – they LOVE both of these
- Echinops – tasty
- Lupins – a firm favourite
- Mints – happy to keep trying just in case they find a tasty sprig
- Catnip – so far not touched
- Potato – rabbit free!
Rabbits do not like calendula, but happily nibbled all the flowers from the plants so we could not not enjoy them either. Rob reminded me that it was not personal, but I was beginning to suspect it was.
So far our plant casualty list looks like this (in no particular order):
- Artichokes, globe and Jerusalem
- Parsley – none left to show
- Broccoli – they climbed pallets to get to this
- Wild garlic – love it
- Onions – love the tips
- Tomatoes – love young tips
- Sweet peas
- Swede – tops
- Turnip – tops
- Geranium – pruned
So far, they have not eaten:
- Pumpkins, gourds, courgette
We borrowed a friend’s device that was supposed to scare wild animals away and set about testing it by leaving out some tasty looking greens.
Conclusion: Rabbits ate greens and, to add insult to injury, left poo in return.
That may have been a one off, so my parents bought us a lovely VonHaus Animal Repeller to try. The instructions say it could take between 7 and 28 days to become fully effective. I positioned it in the allotment facing my lupins and waited.
Conclusion: One and a half months later my lupins were reduced to stumps. VonHaus gave my parents their money back.
Noisy and/or shiny objects
We have cow bells hanging in trees, bottles on sticks that rattle in the wind, and CDs dangling from string dotted around the plot and along the fence.
Conclusion: Rabbits do not take a blind bit of notice.
Natural predation/simulated natural predation
We are wildlife laden on our allotment site, and that has come in pretty handy in terms of keeping the rabbit numbers in check. We have buzzards, foxes and stoats. The natural predators have so far been one of our greatest allies
Conclusion: Wonderful to be wildlife rich and have some method of rabbit control that has some effect. Slight downside is the bits of rabbits that randomly turn up in our plot and neighbouring ones. Quite stinky in the height of summer. Attracts magpies, crows and red kites – the magpies are little hooligans and pick out seedling plants, but it is a pleasure to see all these birds. I found a “lucky” rabbit’s foot not so long ago beside our gate. I guess it was not so lucky for the rabbit it was supposed to be attached to.
In terms of simulated natural predation, I read an article that mentioned the scent from cat and dog fur deters rabbits. As a result I made friends and family save fur from brushed pets and I stuck it in the fence around the plot.
Conclusion: I looked like I’d gone crazy and decorated my fences in animal fur; pretty sure the rabbits just laughed at me.
There are numerous posts online with different recipes for chilli and/or garlic sprays that help keep rabbits at bay. We mixed our own using a hot pepper sauce and garlic and sprayed it over some of the rabbits’ favourite plants.
Conclusion: Overpowering scent of garlic kept humans at bay. Rabbits appreciative that we seasoned the nasturtiums for them.
Cultivation and clearing of external boundaries
We have recently seen a drop in rabbit activity. We even have flowers. Yes, actual flowers that grew all by themselves and everything. The rabbit damage seems… Contained. I am not an overly superstitious person but excuse me a minute whilst I touch everything near me that is made of wood…
I am not saying that it is completely under control as we did have a hole scraped into one of our beds the other day, but that was beside our hazel tree so it may have been a squirrel. But rabbit activity definitely lessened when the neighbouring plot (with the warren) was taken on by a new family. They have slowly cleared it. I am not sure what they have done, but they did mention that they had “plans” for the rabbits.
Perhaps a combined effort on a united front is the best approach.
Conclusion: FLOWERS AND VEGETABLES!
Addendum: It is now July 2020 and we have managed to keep our plot free from rabbits for three years. Admittedly, a four month winter flood no doubt helped relocate a few of them, but there is still a thriving colony on our allotment site. Regular boundary checks and minor repairs of fencing as needed has kept the bunnies at bay.
We conclude that the most effective method of staying rabbit-free has been to use wire fencing with small gauge holes, and to make sure external boundaries are kept clear of any undergrowth that rabbits can hide under. We still only have plot neighbours on one side, so we remain ever vigilant.
Finally, Do not underestimate the rabbits – they are great climbers, so make sure nothing leans against or abuts your fence.
If we can grow food free from rabbits, then I have every hope that you can too.