Oryctolagus cuniculus

Order: Lagomorpha


Description: Long ears, tips brown, blue/grey on back, white under tail, rufus colour on back of neck. Size up to 40cm, weight up to 1.2 kg for male.

Lifespan: 2 to 4 years, 90% die in first 3 months.

Breeding Season: Throughout the year most litters are born between February and August, litters are between 3 to 7 young. A female can have 4 to 6 litters a year.

Habitat: Rabbits will live wherever they can burrow and be close to food sources.

Origin: Introduced by the Romans and became established in the wild in Norman times, now considered an indigenous species. They were originally bred for food and for their skins. They were contained in enclosures called warrens. Escapees gradually spread across the whole country.

Diet: Rabbits will eat grasses, root crops, cereal crops and even tree bark if those other sources are covered by snow

General ecology: Rabbits live in burrows, called warrens, dug out by the females called does. Rabbits are territorial, both within the warren and outside it. They will mark their territory by rubbing scent glands, situated under their jaws, on ground features in any area they consider theirs.  The does will select an isolated burrow in the warren to give birth. The young are born blind, deaf and almost hairless. They are weaned at 21 to 25 days.

Rabbit 2km2 to 2018

Distribution and main sites:  Rabbits are to be found throughout Shropshire with the largest population in the north and round Telford. The least populated areas are to the north of Shrewsbury and the south east and southwest. Moorland areas are thinly populated as these habitats are unsuitable for rabbits.

Local survey history: Gathered from reports from a range of sources including the Shropshire Mammal Group records.

Conservation status: Rabbits have no legal protection in Britain. In the 19th century rabbits became major agricultural pests, in the 1950s rabbits destroyed approximately £50 million worth of crops a year.

Threats: Foxes, badgers, stoats, weasels, mink, rats and humans. Young rabbits will occasionally be taken by raptors. When myxomatosis first appeared in the country in 1953, approximately 90% of the rabbit population died within the next two years. There are still occasional outbreaks of the virus and rabbits are now developing some resistance to it, particularly those that live above ground. Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, RHD 1, was first reported in the UK in 1992 and since then an even more virulent form called RHD2 has become established here. The mortality rate for RHD2 is from 70% to 100% and is passed on from contact with any bodily fluids. Evidence suggests that rabbit numbers are in general decline from diseases and other reasons that are not, as present, fully understood.

Main recording methods: easy to observe from direct sightings, presence of active burrows, droppings.

Action: monitoring the impact of disease


Collins Field Guide of Britain & Europe.

Online references:

The Mammal Society

Wikipedia, Rabbits.

The Wildlife Trusts

Field signs

Burrows often found in large groups referred to as warrens.

Paw prints in mud, sand or snow. There are four pads on each leg, the hind ones are often like an elongated slipper impression. They are smaller than those of hares

Droppings, greenish brown in colour on field edges, under hedges and in snow. Dense piles of pellets on raised mounds such as ant hills.

Fur caught up in brambles and wire fences and clumps where a rabbit has been caught by a predator or where does have been fighting over nest sites.

Bones: skulls and other bones are often found in areas where rabbits are well established

Text: Barbara Ashton with additions

Photograph: Malcolm Monie