Rabbits

There is a well established rabbit warren in the hedge between Cornfield and Sleepers Field. But, despite their long-term place in our landscapes and myths, rabbits are not British natives; they are an introduced alien species.

They are native to the western Mediterranean and there appears to be a variety of opinion as to when and how they came here.

It used to be thought that they arrived with the Normans in the eleventh Century but recent research seems to have proven differently. A small bone, dug up in 1964 during the excavation of the Roman palace at Fishbourne, has finally been identified as a rabbit bone. Radiocarbon dating has placed it in the first few decades of the Roman occupation of Britain.

The little piece of bone, 4cm of tibia, shows no marks of butchery or any indication that the rabbit was eaten and Zooarchaeologists have come to the very tentative conclusion that it might have been an exotic pet kept by the grand and wealthy occupants of the Fishbourne Palace, who are known to have kept a menagerie of wild animals.

Romans had been farming rabbits (cuniculture) in the Iberian Peninsula since 200BC. The rabbits were confined in walled or fenced enclosures and escapes (of course) were common; anywhere that the Roman colonisers established cuniculture, the escapees quickly became naturalised and wild rabbits spread throughout mainland Europe as fast as the Romans did. But there is very little evidence that the Romans farmed rabbits in Britain during their centuries of occupation and no evidence at all of a wild population.

So, even though the first rabbit in Britain seems to have come here with the Romans, our warren is probably descended from the rabbits introduced by the mediaeval monks from Normandy during the eleventh century.

The hedge between Cornfield and Sleepers Field


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