Hope Cove has a healthy population of wild rabbits living here. Due to the closeness of the countryside to the Cottage Hotel we often have some rabbits venture onto the front lawns (normally seen early morning). Rabbits are nocturnal so the best time to see them is early morning or late at night, especially at Easter.
Wild rabbits are a native species that are found across England and Europe. Rabbits belong to the Lagomorphs group; they are one of the most hunted groups of all the animal kingdom. Other animals in this group are hares and pikas. Our native rabbit is called a European Rabbit. These animals are herbivores that have to eat in huge quantities to maintain their energy levels. They are different because they digest their food twice. This is done by the rabbit producing a small moist pellet that they then eat to digest again, producing a dry pellet.
A rabbit’s anatomy is altogether designed for avoiding predators – they have big ears, for precise hearing; well-furred feet provide good grip for running away; and are very quick reproducers. European rabbits have a mixed black and brown fur with a lighter belly and inside the legs. They have both upper and lower incisors for grinding grass, herbs, twigs and some bark. Rabbits incisors are continually growing but are ground down by the fibre they eat. The European rabbit has a very flexible neck for self grooming, it is able to turn its neck 180 degrees.
Rabbits produce very complex underground tunnel systems called warrens that have many entrances. They are very sociable animals that live in colonies. Rabbits also have a ranking system – the more senior female rabbits use the main more central nests whereas the lower ranked females use self-dug separate short burrows called stops for their nests. Rabbits have a gestation period of just 28-33 days and an average litter size is 5 young but can be anything up to 8 bunnies. Females can have up to 6 litters a year due to a quick gestation time and relatively little work after birth. The young are helpless with their eyes closed, so the mother lines the nest with fur from her belly and dry grass. The nest is in a nursery chamber which she has to keep warm. She visits them to suckle for only a few minutes a day.
A perfect time to see the rabbits is around Easter half term. As well as seeing the wild rabbits on our grounds we have the Hotel all decorated to celebrate Easter, serving chocolate bunnies at breakfast. When all the trees and plants are spurting and growing, the rabbits emerge from their warrens.