FERRETS are to be used to control a rabbit population boom which is causing distress at a cemetery.
Visitors tending the graves of loved ones at Bridlington cemetery have been met with signs of rabbit burrows around graves and countless fresh flowers, even elaborate floral name displays put out in memory of friends and family members have been stripped of their blooms or reduced to shreds within hours, and pot plants uprooted.
Some graves have had holes dug close to headstones, raising concerns they could be undermined and become unsafe and at least one grave, that of a baby, had to be reinstated after rabbits caused it to sink.
Complaints have been increasing along with the number of rabbits.
Many people have started to use plastic flowers instead.
Now, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which is responsible for the twelve and a half acre site, the largest cemetery in its area with about 10,000 graves and 28,500 burials, has said it intends to use the traditional method of ferrets to reduce the rabbit problem.
It believes most are coming from nearby allotments and other open land.
John Skidmore, the head of the council’s Streetscene, said using ferrets is the only way of dealing with what is a very sensitive issue.
“After complaints from users and a great deal of thought we have decided that using ferrets is the best, most humane way of reducing their numbers.
“Talking to the Sexton people are distressed about what is happening to their flowers. There are also concerns and disquiet about rabbits creating burrows in a burial ground,” said Mr Skidmore, who added that burials were deeper than rabbits normally have burrows.
The council, has used ferrets before to deal with similar problems at Anlaby near Hull and at Beverley but said the problem was not as serious as in Bridlington.
It believes the special nature of a cemetery mean other methods are not practical.
“The cemetery is a public place, we do not want to have to close it which we would have to do were we to use poison pellets or gas.
“There would be a danger of domestic pets being affected, even children or visitors, and we would not want to see shooting in the cemetery,” said Mr Skidmore.
Using ferrets to drive rabbits from their burrows into handler’s nets means no traps are used, and no carcases are left behind as with gas or poison.
“That would not be something people, especially children, would want to see in a cemetery,” said Mr Skidmore.
The ferrets, dealing with a service provider, would be brought in early next year, before the breeding season begins in March and would operate early in the morning so relatives and other visitors would not be disturbed.
“It is an ongoing process and this method may have to be used periodically to keep numbers under control.
We are not aiming to remove all the rabbits, but their numbers in the cemetery must be reduced,” said Mr Skidmore.
Earlier this year Wetherby Town Council had a similar problem and decided to use ferrets in a cemetery.
Town Clerk Barbara Ball said: “We have no complaints from local people, most of whom believed it was the most humane way of dealing with the rabbits, and it has made a difference,” she said.
Nationally the rabbit population is estimated at more than 40 million, having risen by around 10% in 10 years.
They were originally introduced to Britain from the Western Mediterranean by the Normans in the 12th century to provide meat and fur.
Ten rabbits eat as much as one sheep.
A doe produces about four litters a season of an average of six rabbits. The does in these litters can start breeding at six to 10 months old.
Their traditional breeding season runs from March to October but warmer winters have meant young rabbits can still be seen in December.
Ferreting involves nets being placed over each of the holes in the warren or burrow.
The presence of a ferret drives rabbits into the nets where they are despatched by the ferreter.