Nomadic rabbits repopulate Dutch coastal dune areas

The rabbits are released. Photo: Waternet

Water company Waternet is trying to increase the depleted rabbit population and restore traditional habitats in Noord-Holland by introducing wild rabbits from elsewhere in the country.

Rabbits are important because they keep pests like the American black cherry from proliferating while their fondness for digging holes provides birds like wheatears and shelducks with a place to breed. They are also a food source for threatened bird species.

The rabbit populations in coastal areas have been decimated by viruses and rabbits were added to the red list of endangered mammals in 2020.

“We would like to see a return to a healthy population,” a spokesman for Waternet told news platform

The first 22 rabbits from the Zuid-Holland Natura 2000 area Uiterwaarden Lek, which has a surplus of rabbits, made the journey to the neighbouring province on Monday.

Landscape preservation foundation Zuid-Hollands Landschap is happy the rabbits are moving because their large numbers are threatening biodiversity there.

Ferrets were used to chase the rabbits from their burrows into a trap, said Waternet.

“The rabbits will have to get used to a different habitat,” the Waternet spokesman said. “It would be better if they had come from a dune area as well but there are few along the coast so that is not possible. But we think they will be all right.”

The animals, which have been vaccinated against viruses, will be monitored to see if any further measures are needed to guarantee their survival.  

Waternet is not the only water company to try its hand at restocking the coastal areas with rabbits. Regional water company PWN is trying to achieve the same in Castricum in Noord-Holland province while the Wadden island of Schiermonnikoog has also been trying to improve their number.

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