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The University of Southampton

Advice from Southampton helps us understand rabbits in a replica warren

Published: 27 September 2013

A University of Southampton expert in animal behaviour played a key part in one of BBC television’s most ambitious natural history experiments this summer.

Dr Anne McBride from the University’s Applied Animal Behaviour Unit worked behind-the-scenes as a consultant on rabbit behaviour for ‘The Burrowers’. The programme, presented by Southampton graduate Chris Packham, drew over 6.2 million viewers during its three week run on BBC2.

Using guidance from Dr McBride and other experts, a magical underground world was recreated including a vast cross-section of a rabbit warren; a water vole burrow with its own riverbank; and a full-size badger sett. The programme makers then used the latest in filming technology to shed light on this previously secret dark world to explain how the animals create their burrows, how they organise themselves underground and how they find mates and give birth.

Dr McBride advised as an expert on rabbit behaviour. She visited the site, advised on the behaviour observed and recorded, and analysed the burrow that was excavated.

“The warren was an innovative idea,” she comments. “Hopefully this has helped people realise that pet rabbits need company and space and won’t be happy in a little hutch.”

This was not the first television programme Dr McBride has supported. Last year, she was rabbit expert on BBC2’s ‘Wartime Farm’ and she has also worked on the series ‘Absolutely Animals’ and ‘Pets Behaving Badly’. She is a patron of the Rabbit Welfare Association and a member of the RSPCA Rabbit Expert Advisory Group. She lectures, in the UK and abroad, and writes about the behaviour of rabbits and other species to disseminate scientific knowledge to animal professionals and the public.

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