Rabbits!

Thursday 8th December comments: We are seeing the last of the Grey Seals depart the island for another autumn as the island slowly and surely empties. However it’s not completely dormant during the winter months as life still exists but you just need to look a little closer to find it.

One aspect of island life we don’t often highlight is the fact we have rabbits (yes we do have rabbits and they vary in colour from grey to black). There are records of rabbits on the Isle of May from 1329, almost 700 years ago when apparently the King’s Chamberlain paid out eight shillings to four men to go and catch some. The rabbits were originally introduced to the island when the Priory was built and would have been an important source of food and revenue. There would have been specially employed ‘warreners’ to look after and harvest them but by 1549 when the island ownership passed from the Priory of Pittenweem, the island was said to have been ‘spoiled of rabbits’ after apparently the English destroyed the warrens. By 1884 the island was grazed by six milk cows, a horse, three donkeys and up to 60 sheep which suggests that the rabbit population was still pretty low.

However the rabbits remained and to this present day can be seen around the island including the small islet of Rona (which they have been seen crossing to at low tide). These grazers split opinion on if they are a good thing or not as they help keep a short sword of vegetation for certain nesting seabird species but also contribute to soil erosion with their constant grazing. Regardless our furry neighbours are here to stay and in spring we’ll be seeing them once again, as life on the Isle of May continues.  

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