Rabbiting: Ed Cook shares his admiration for the adaptable wild rabbit, which can, and will, live almost anywhere.
I have been lucky enough to travel across the UK to control and remove rabbit populations from all manner of places, some more bizarre than others, and this is where a dog that marks where rabbits are hiding is important.
I have fond memories of rabbiting with a friend in my teenage years on the local playing pitch, with his collie and my ferrets. Back then, we relied on the dog and purse-nets to catch our quarry. Once flushed from the brambles, the rabbits would always head for a wall at the back of the wood, which the dog would mark. The 8ft wall was made of old red brick, which kept brats like us out of the neighbouring garden and us out of mischief for many hours at the weekend.
This is where the rabbits lived. The wall was in pretty good condition, but lacked the odd brick, which allowed rabbits to find refuge in the warm and dry cavity. We would put the purse-nets over such holes by fixing small drawing pins, pushing them through the draw cord and into the soft brick.
This was enough to hold the net, but as soon as the rabbit bolted after a ferret was placed in the cavity, they would be knocked out and the purse would come up with our captive firmly inside. The rabbits would also climb inside the wall when pushed by the ferrets, and one could hear the rabbits scratching and scuffling as they tried to climb up to supposed safety. Needless to say the ferret would follow and make the rabbit bolt or grab its prey.
We were armed with blunt screwdrivers for this outcome and would scratch the old and slightly decayed mortar out, which allowed us to slide a brick out and get to our prized catch. Each time we would place the brick back and on our return the ferret often made catches in the same place.
From then on, I quickly realised that rabbits can and will live anywhere. Some years ago, my bitch, Red, stopped at a lime tree and was gazing up at the dense shoots around the trunk and sure enough, there was a rabbit some 15ft up.
I was astonished. I sent a ferret up and slowly one by one, four rabbits made their way down and bolted into my waiting net. While this is not what I would call a regular occurrence, if there are lime trees in an area with a healthy rabbit population I would put money on rabbits being in them.
Hollows in trees are good spots for rabbits and they will happily climb up inside and often to quite a height. The best way to get to these is to set a long-net around the tree, but with a large circumference, as the rabbits may well have an exit point from a rotten limb which they will suddenly drop from.
Alternatively, you can stand back and shoot them with a shotgun if they bolt.
Buildings also create a perfect habitat for rabbits. They often find cavities they can happily inhabit. Some of these can be tricky to clear when ferreting, especially if there are big spaces underneath and the ferrets can be given the run around. In such circumstances I will send in my terrier to speed things up if there is space for her to move and I deem it safe.
When working such places, it is always best to keep long-nets as tight to the building as possible and place purse-nets to avoid rabbits nipping in and out from under the building without touching a net mesh.
I have caught rabbits in all manner of locations, from beneath sheds, decking, houses and portable cabins to shipping containers, walls, wire ducts, log piles and up trees and I’ve even bolted them with ferrets from a pile of toilets in a barn, all of which are easily ferreted, providing you have a dog to mark to save time on unneeded netting up, long-nets to encircle the areas and purse-nets wherever possible.
It is advisable to avoid sending in a hungry ferret as you could be left waiting if it enters a warren with food on its mind. A locater system is important in all of these situations – you probably won’t be able to get to the ferret but at least you know where it is.
Many ferreters will do their best to avoid such places, but I seldom if ever walk away from a spot now if the dog has marked it – unless I think my animal’s safety is at risk.