Larger herbivores: Rabbit and deer
David Wembridge, People’s Trust for Endangered Species reviewed by Steve Head
Rabbit Oryctilagus ?
Rabbits are a common sight in urban fringes, venturing into gardens and allotments along road verges and railway embankments, and while most active at dusk or later, are quite often seen in the daytime in quiet areas. Rabbits are not native to Britain and Ireland, but were introduced by XXX While many people imagine they are large rodents, they are not closely related -----. Their larger cousins the hares are not garden denizens. The Scots mountain hare is native, but the brown hare is also an introdued speceis ----
Rabbits dig burrows (warrens), which offer protection, and several social groups, typically of two to eight adults, share the network of tunnels. Males and, less so, females, establish separate pecking-orders within a group: dominant males father the majority of offspring in their group, while dominant females obtain the best nest sites. The dense, soft fur of rabbits loses heat quickly when it is wet, so rabbits keep dry, staying beneath ground during wet weather.
Diet Rabbits feed primarily on grasses but their catholic tastes take in vegetables, ornamental flowers, shrubs, fruit bushes and trees. There is no guaranteed method to prevent rabbits from feeding on garden or allotment plants: enclosing beds in rabbit-proof fencing is probably the best option. Fencing needs to be one metre high and if made out of wire-mesh, with a mesh size no larger than 30 millimetres. Traditionally, dried gorse or holly leaves were used to surround areas, or a border of prickly rue Ruta graveolens. It might be tempting to fence the whole garden, but this would keep out excludes other species like hedgehogs too.
Alternatively, plants that rabbits will naturally tend to avoid can be brought centre-stage: snowdrops and daffodils in spring, and flowers such as yellow flag Iris pseudacorus, cyclamen and foxglove.
Appearance and activity Their fur ranges from a light sandy colour to black, but is typically greyish-brown and paler on the animal’s underside. They have long ears and hindfeet; they are smaller than hares and lack the black tips on their ears. Crepuscular and nocturnal but are also active during the day if undisturbed.
Status, population size and distribution Non-native and common; UK population 38,000,000. Myxymatosis The population has increased over the last 25 years but has fallen significantly in the last ten years, especially in Scotland. Rabbits are widespread throughout Britain and Ireland below 350m.
There are xx spcies of deer in Britain, but only the Red and roe deer are native, the rest introduced for sport or to ornament country parks. Muntjac and roe deer are found in urban parks, cemeteries and school grounds, as well as in allotments and gardens, feeding on the shoots, leaves and flowers of many garden plants and deciduous trees (they are predominantly browsers rather than grazers). Like most species of small deer, they tend to be solitary, so any damage is likely to be limited to the attentions of a single individual or, at most, two or three animals at any one time.
Roe deer Capreolus capreolus
Roe deer are relatively small, about the size of a goat (their Latin name means ‘little goat’), with a long neck and legs. When disturbed they have a characteristic bounding gait and display the white-cream caudal patch on their rump. In females, this patch is shaped like an inverted heart and has a white tuft at its base, while in males it is kidney-shaped and lacks the tuft. Like most small deer species, roe deer tend to be solitary.
Appearance and activity Roe deer have a deep reddish-brown coat of short, sleek hairs in summer, which turns grey-brown in winter. During May and June, when the winter coat is moulted, they can look quite moth-eaten. They have a distinctive black nose and a white chin, commonly with a black chinstrap, and can be recognised from muntjac by their upright stance and pointed ears. Males have short antlers with a maximum of three points and knobbly bases.
They are active throughout the day and night, feeding for longest around dusk and dawn. In winter, they may rest for up to 60 percent of the time.
Status, population size and distribution Native and widespread. GB population 500,000 (Scotland, 350,000; England, 150,000). After nearly becoming extinct in England during the 19th century, the population has continuously increased over the last 40 years. They are now present throughout much of England and have recently colonised parts of Wales, but are absent from Ireland, the Isle of Wight and most of the Scottish islands.
Reeves’ (or Chinese) muntjac Muntiacus reevesi
Muntjac were introduced to this country by XXXin abXXX from xxx
Muntjac is the smallest deer in Britain (about 50cm at the shoulder) but they are noisy. Both sexes have a loud, repeated bark when disturbed (and which females make when in oestrous), similar to that of foxes.
Appearance and activity Between April and November, muntjacs are a reddish-brown colour with a lighter, often white, throat and underside. Males have short, backward-pointing antlers, with black stripes running in a V-shape from the base of each antler. In comparison, females have a kite-shaped marking. Large canine teeth are visible below the upper lip of males, which use them (along with their antlers) to spar with other males. Their haunches are higher than their withers (shoulders), which gives them a hunched forward appearance.
Muntjacs may be active at any time but feed mainly in early morning, at dusk and the in middle of the day.
Status, population size and distribution Non-native and locally common. GB population 52,000 (almost all in England; several hundred in Wales and fewer than 100 in Scotland). The population has increased continually over the last 25 years. In England, they have spread northward as far as Cheshire and Derbyshire. They are absent from Ireland.