The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) is calling on Natural England (NE) to review its policy on how landowners are entitled to manage rabbit populations.
?It is unfortunate that last November, without any real consultation, NE decided it would no longer take action against land managers who refuse to control rabbits on their land,? said the CLA?s Christopher Price.
For the past 60 years, as part of the 1947 Agriculture Act and the 1954 Pests Act, all landowners had a duty to keep down rabbit numbers on their property to protect crops.
If a neighbour failed to do so, aggrieved landowners could apply to NE for an Agriculture Act Notice, which ordered the despatch of the rabbits.
Mr Price said the CLA is now urging NE to reinstate the statutory powers that enabled landowners to ensure proper rabbit management is undertaken throughout England.
Mr Price added: ?Rabbits, according to NE?s own figures, destroy around £50million worth of cereals every year, causing major loss to landowners. Previously, a land manager who felt their neighbour was not taking their responsibilities towards rabbits seriously could threaten to call in NE which could often sort out matters. Now there is no-one for the land manager to go to.?
Shooting Times? ferreting expert, Simon Whitehead, agreed with the CLA?s calls.
?This is mainly due to the lack of consistent and efficient rabbit management, which has allowed the population to increase through mature breeding stock.?
He added: ?Perhaps in the long term it may be seen to be a positive move if this piece of legislation is returned and used to settle disputes. Landowners or occupiers will be obliged to think seriously about their rabbit management plans.?
In response, a spokesman for NE said in the past three years it had received 61 complaints where neighbours could not agree and in only three of the cases was an Agriculture Act Notice issued.
?Redirection of this small level of enforcement activity will not have a real impact on rabbit control,? he said.
He added that the vast majority of rabbit problems are dealt with by neighbours working together to resolve issues.
?This is both the way it should be and also the approach that offers the best hope of a long-term solution,? he said.
The spokesman also pointed out that long-term rabbit control needs to be based on effective co-operation between land managers rather than on a system of fines.
?With a maximum penalty of only £500, it has limited potential to deter and even less to drive the types of constructive action through which rabbit populations can be effectively managed.?