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18 December 2004
Ancient hill fort defended from raiding rabbits

Burrough-on-the-Hill, an ancient hill fort in Leicestershire (England), has recently been under attack from the local rabbit population. Farmer and Country Park Ranger, Tim Maydwell, has been fighting back. "The rabbits may have been attracted to this site by the abundance of scrubby vegetation around the fort," explained Mr Maydwell. "They’ve made their warrens in the foundations of the old ramparts and now there is a danger of land slippage. I didn't want to eradicate the rabbits, nor did I want to completely clear the scrub as it is a valuable habitat for nesting birds such as the linnet."
     The ancient hill fort was made a Scheduled Ancient Monument by English Heritage in 1970, which affords the site legal protection and makes maintenance a requirement by law. "Burrough-on-the-Hill has been much visited by the public over the years. Not surprisingly this has also contributed to soil erosion, along with the rabbit damage and the influences of the weather, "said Kate Fearn of English Heritage.
     Targeted scrub removal has taken place over several years and a number of cows and sheep have been drafted in to graze the site. The cattle control the harder grasses, while the sheep eat the softer stuff on top of the stone and earth ramparts. Care has been taken to retain healthy gorse and hawthorn bushes and as a result the rabbit population is rapidly decreasing. The careful maintenance of certain hardy plants is gradually resulting in the lowering the rabbit population.
     "I'm delighted to say the condition of the ramparts is now greatly improved as a result of the grazing and grassland management," added Kate Fearn. "This is a real conservation success story," said Bill Field, a senior adviser at Defra's Rural Development Service in the East Midlands. "Five years of carefully monitored mixed grazing and timely scrub control are now paying off."

Source: Article by David Prudames for 24 Hour Museum (17 December 2004)

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