§ Mr. Marlow
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is her estimate of changes in the rabbit population in the last 10 years, both nationally and regionally; what action she intends to take or has recommended; and if she will make a statement.
§ Mr. Soames
Detailed regional surveys of rabbit populations between 1980 asnd 1986 showed a steady increase in the distribution and abundance of rabbits, particularly in eastern and south-eastern England. Nationally, numbers are now estimated to be about 30 per cent. of pre-myxomatosis levels, that is at about 30 million, and are rising at a rate of 2 per cent. per year. In some areas the populations are back to pre-myxomatosis levels.
Section 1 of the Pests Act 1954 places a continuing obligation on occupiers of land designated as rabbit clearance areas to control rabbits harboured on their land. 240W The current Rabbit Clearance Order, issued in 1972, covers the whole of England and Wales excluding the City of London, the Isles of Scilly and Skokholm island.
Where occupiers are failing to meet their obligations under the 1954 Act, Agriculture Ministers have the power, under section 98 of the Agriculture Act 1947, to require action to be taken. These discretionary powers will be invoked where the situation has not been resolved satisfactorily within a reasonable period of time.
The Ministry is aware of the damage that rabbits can cause and keeps its policy on rabbit control under continual review. The Ministry is funding R and D to establish improved methods for cost-effective and humane rabbit control.