I was addressing a burgeoning rabbit problem in North Norfolk and I was keen to make an immediate impact, but to do so, I realised I would require some extra hands. It was time to reassemble the troops. The Jolly boys — Ian “Torchie” Clayton, Richard Edwards, Steve Taylor, Paul Sutton, Dave “Romford” Jones and myself — would be reunited for a weekend’s ferreting in Norfolk.
The weekend was meticulously planned. I was not only going to give my young lurcher, Tawny, her first experience on a warren, but I would also be taking the boys out of their comfort zones — staying on site, ferreting very deep and expansive warrens that hadn’t seen a mustelid for decades and not a single purse-net would be laid. Would Tawny and the boys be mentally and physically ready to answer these challenges?
Holding court at the hostel
We stayed at a local backpackers’ hostel. The hostel was fantastic but I had a sneaky feeling the other occupants didn’t quite know what to make of us as we made light work of a hearty rabbit stew with potato meal, while holding court on the main dining table.
On day one the sun rose over the marshes and by 9am we were ready for action. This was virgin ground. It could have gone one of two ways. The rabbits could pop out like popcorn or we could be digging for Britain. We decided to remain patient and let the ferrets work the pipes unhindered, grinding the rabbits down to that important decision — bolt or face the ferrets.
While laying nets, I noticed few mounds of rabbit droppings. To have so few matriarchal mounds — which signal territories — on such a large collection of warrens can point towards one large closely knit community. If the warrens weren’t connected, they may contain genetic bloodlines that are.
In such deep architecture, rabbits instinctively know that they are in a safe domain. They have a labyrinth of a fortress with large sandy pipes that only the hosts know intimately.
We surrounded the infested area of the field with long-nets. In the areas in between, where I judged that the warrens separated, we blocked the possible escape routes with stop-nets. We ended up laying more than 800m of long-nets. This ensured that, once we started ferreting, we could crack on without stopping to pick up and lay nets.
Ferreting in this manner is about as sporting as it gets. With my dog, Bella, patrolling the warren, the difference is the pressure exerted on the rabbits once above terra firma. This canine lagomorphal-seeking missile forces an immediate decision. There are only two ways to run: into the waiting nets or be caught and retrieved by this hairy black lurcher. One of the magnetic appeals of ferreting is honing your style to get the right result. The boys buy into my way of thinking, all confident, and rabbit in an impeccable manner whatever I decide to throw at them.