When I was out the other I came across some council trees. They’re maybe 4 or 5 years old. They’re between the road and a large empty paddock that gets mown several times a year but where the grass is still thick and abundant.
The area around the base of the trees is bare dirt for maybe a 2 – 3 metres diameter and the rabbits have been going beserk, making extravagantly big holes. I was curious about this – some time ago it was pointed out to me that rabbits thrive where the grass is really short. That’s why you have rabbit problems where there is sheep grazing (because most farmers graze pasture very low).
Bearing this in mind I look around to see where else the rabbits are making homes. And sure enough, the only places there are holes is where there the grass has been disturbed or is very short. Most of the paddock is thick grass up to five inches tall but generally less than that and there were no rabbit holes there at all. But where the grass had been dug into by humans or sprayed, there were holes.
Here’s the irony. The council were obviously spraying around the trees to keep the grass down, and then the rabbits where coming along and digging because it’s the only accessible dirt in the area. The spraying is unnecessary as these older trees won’t be adversely affected by long grass. I guess it’s a cosmetic thing, you can’t have long grass in a town, it looks messy. Messier than dead grass, bare earth, rabbit holes and pesticide residue.
So go rabbits I say. If humans are going to do stupid things, then nature will point it out.
Solutions? Personally I don’t mind long grass and would take that over pesticide use any day. I accept that that is too much for many people, so how about wild herbaceous borders that act as mini wildlife preserves or corridors? The strip of land where these trees were growing could be seeded with local wildflowers, in this case yarrow, vipers bugloss, st john’s wort, wild carrot, dandelion, red clover and curly dock (they just all happen to be medicinal, heh). This would encourage abundant insect life, including food for bees and predator insects that control ‘pest’ insects (which would also benefit nearby gardens).
Grasses could be included (especially some of the more aesthetic ones), which would provide food for small birds. If the trees were fruit or nut trees, then the undergrowth could be a permaculture orchard using plants beneficial for predator and pollinating insects eg feral parnsip which when flowering attracts insects and when seeding is elegant (I have a thing for umbelliferae).
In permaculture there is a technique called a guild. This is where you have a cluster of plants that work together for the benefit of each other. In this example each food bearing tree could form the centre of a guild that included plants that act as mulch and ground cover (preserving soil moisture), insect attractors (pest control and pollination), increase fertility and provide nutrients, and provide beauty. You can read more about guilds here.