Se­crets of the un­der­world!

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FEATURE -

The scene at first glance looks ut­terly com­mon­place for any­one who’s ever owned a pet rab­bit. Bound­ing into view, the ball of brown fur that is Hazel, whiskers twitch­ing, floppy ears droop­ing slightly, pauses for a sec­ond be­fore her nose ap­pears to drop to her stom­ach. What fol­lows will al­most cer­tainly never have been wit­nessed by any tele­vi­sion viewer be­fore. For, as the sec­onds un­fold and Hazel seems to be pluck­ing fur from her stom­ach, an­other lit­tle nose ap­pears. Hazel has, in fact, given birth to a tiny, bald rab­bit. Within mo­ments the sec­ond of the lit­ter, then the third, fol­lows un­til the proud mother has pro­duced five in­fants, or kits.

In­cred­i­bly, the whole thing has been filmed live in­side the war­ren Hazel shares with two male rab­bits and two other fe­males, for a ground-break­ing three-part se­ries, The Bur­row­ers. Wildlife ex­pert Chris Packham, who presents it, says, ‘I’m quite a prag­matic bloke. I don’t use the cute word too of­ten — but that first rab­bit birth was a Cham­pagne mo­ment.’ And it’s just one of nu­mer­ous jaw­drop­ping scenes that form part of this hugely am­bi­tious nat­u­ral his­tory ex­per­i­ment. Chris and a BBC2 team of wildlife ex­perts and sci­en­tists have painstak­ingly de­signed and built full-scale repli­cas of the un­der­ground homes of bur­row­ing an­i­mals — rab­bits, bad­gers and wa­ter voles — in a bid to en­ter their se­cre­tive world and un­der­stand them bet­ter.

Over three fas­ci­nat­ing hours of TV we will learn how th­ese crea­tures cre­ate their homes, breed and give birth. ‘We all use the ex­pres­sion “breed­ing like rab­bits”, but they’re ac­tu­ally a very se­cre­tive species, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing their young, so this was in­cred­i­ble to wit­ness,’ says Chris. Very lit­tle has ac­tu­ally ever been ob­served in­side un­der­ground habi­tats, be­cause to do so would risk dis­turb­ing the an­i­mals and ei­ther fright­en­ing them or caus­ing them to be­have un­nat­u­rally.

Great lengths were taken to mimic the nat­u­ral bur­row and sett. A con­crete mould was made of an aban­doned rab­bit war­ren to get an idea of the cham­ber lay­out. The re­sults were amaz­ing — for ex­am­ple, Chris says of the wa­ter voles, ‘We didn’t know they stored their food. Not only did we see them des­ig­nat­ing cham­bers as stor­age ar­eas, but they stored dif­fer­ent foods in dif­fer­ent parts. Food that would go off quickly like soft fruit was stored sep­a­rately, so as not to con­tam­i­nate the other food if it rot­ted. It was quite a so­phis­ti­cated larder sys­tem!’

The Bur­row­ers, from 9 Au­gust, 9pm, BBC2

Sarah Chalmers

A ground­break­ing new

TV show tracks bun­nies, bad­gers and wa­ter voles at home in their bur­rows

Ea­ger bunny Wildlife ex­pert Chris Packham, who presents The Bur­row­ers

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