It is this extreme fecundity that makes rabbits such a menace to agriculture. Until the arrival of myxomatosis, in the Fifties, farmers suffered heavy losses to crops. Then the disease wiped out 95 per cent of the population, and numbers have never recovered to their previous level. Nowadays myxomatosis, which is borne by fleas, generally breaks out in late summer and carries off a high proportion of the rabbit population, but a certain number appear to be immune, and survive.
The first flopsy bunnies of the season are appearing along the hedgerows - and no sooner do most of them show above ground, at the age of a few weeks, than they are killed and eaten by predators: foxes, cats, stoats, weasels, and buzzards move in on the new hatch with relish. Such is the carnage in early spring that it often looks as though rabbits are going to be wiped out. Yet females are astonishingly prolific. After a gestation period of only 30 days, they produce up to half a dozen young, then quickly mate again and continue the cycle. With the young themselves able to breed at the age of three-and-half months, the summer population builds at an amazing rate.