Monday, 17 January 2011

Rabbiting Year

On the third of February this year we enter the new Chinese Year of the Rabbit (according to Wikipedia).  This is supposed to be a more diplomatic and less turbulent year than the previous one, the Chinese Year of the Tiger.  Speaking personally, that seems a jolly good idea!  While I keep an open mind on all manner of notions, the mantra of things looking up is one I intend to embrace.

Rabbits are also a great deal more relevant to landscape architecture than tigers, so there is a lot more to be said.  For a start there are a great deal more of them, something they continue to achieve with enthusiasm (although the European Rabbit is now a threatened species in its own natural habitat in Spain and Portugal – see Wikipedia and IUCN red list).  Secondly they occur in many different places and often in close proximity to rural people in their working lives or in gardens.

Rabbits are voracious eaters.  When we first moved into our current home we witnessed the decimation of a much-loved pot plant on its first night in its new location with horror.  The following weekend we went shopping for some plants for the garden and bought three rose bushes and a magnolia, thinking the roses would be too thorny and the magnolia too sour a taste for them.  Ha ha!  It turns out that young thorny shoots are a favourite and they loved the magnolia equally.  Thankfully although they all suffered, we were able to put fencing around them in time and now they flourish.  We went back to the garden centre, who gave us a list of plants rabbits won’t eat.  Ominously roses were on it.  We showed it to the neighbours who chuckled and said that they knew of examples of most of the plants on the list that had been decimated over the years.  Someone forgot to give the list to the rabbits!

Rabbit proofing
As the years have passed our rabbit population has declined alongside the growth of some very large domestic cats in the neighbourhood.  Some of these cats are now so large the bird population is safe, because those dainty treats aren’t a patch on the taste of real rabbit.  It feels a bit wrong to watch this change with a lack of pity, rabbits are one of the traditional cuddly furry animals alongside bears and guinea pigs.  A landscape training distances you from the rabbit for exactly the same reasons as we suffered in our garden.  A well-designed bit of open planting has to be installed with rabbit-proof fencing as part of the specification until the thorny species have hardened up and usually for five years at the minimum.  Rabbits like to strip the bark off trees and so rabbit guards are also a feature.  The youngsters are quite experimental which can be highly destructive.  In open landscapes the presence of rabbit or deer populations is shown by a ‘skirt’ line to tree canopies that are near to the ground.  Holly bushes can also have this skirting effect, which is surprising until you look at and feel the young leaves before they harden and realise that they could be eaten and digested fairly easily.

Several years ago I worked on a historic park in Sussex which had a string of terraced lawns progressing from the balcony outside the house into the ‘pleasure grounds’ and the outer parkland.  These lawns were not balustraded as with many Sussex properties, they relied on steep banks between the lawns for a softer effect.  As a result of the softer effect, at the time we were working there many rabbits had turned the whole string into an unmanaged warren!  The extra complication was that the owners LIKED the rabbits!  It was very hard to persuade them that they were losing their lawns and that there were other areas the rabbits could live that were less destructive and less threatening to their chances of getting grants for landscape restoration proposals….. there are plenty of places where their eating habits mean benefits to keeping unwanted vegetation down - so long as where they live is more robust.

So here’s hoping for a more amiable year with the right things happening in the right places!

No comments:

Post a Comment