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 farmers could apply to NE for an Agriculture Act Notice which ordered the despatch of the rabbits. According to NE, in the past three years a total of 61 complaints were made where neighbours could not agree on the control of rabbits, and in only three cases was an order issued.

A spokesman stated that this change: ?will not have a significant impact on reducing levels of rabbit control.

In the vast majority of cases, problems concerning rabbit control are dealt with satisfactorily as a result of neighbouring landowners agreeing on appropriate action between themselves.?

Rural organisations are angered about the change. The Countryside Alliance?s Tim Bonner said: ?When it continues to act in such a ludicrous way without consultation or logic, the government can?t escape the criticism that it has no understanding of rural issues or interest in the views of the countryside. There could not be a better example of how the government and NE are infested with a ?bunny hugger? mentality.?

However, NE feels that long-term rabbit control should rely on cooperation between land managers rather than on a system of fines.

Julie Robinson, of the National Farmers? Union, commented that Agriculture Act Notices have been an important fallback for farmers: ?Then, out of the blue, we get a letter saying they will only intervene if there is a national [rabbit] problem, whatever that means. What concerns me is that this is NE pulling back from its statutory duty because it does not feel that any order to compel people to kill rabbits fits in with its overall brief, which is the protection and enhancement of wildlife, rabbits or otherwise.?

Ferreting columnist, Simon Whitehead, pointed out that there will always be conflict of interests between political policies and issues that affect the management of land: ?With localised rabbit populations rising, perhaps in the long term it may be seen to be a positive move that this old piece of legislation is no longer used as a yardstick to settle disputes. Landowners or occupiers will have to think seriously about their own rabbit management plans. It will be interesting to see how, in the future, the civil courts interpret and rule in disputes over burgeoning rabbit populations.?