Campaign Update Winter 2021

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Capone Campaign update January to June 2021 by Mark Dron

In the period from January to June 2021, Mark raised 203 cases; in the same period in 2020 it was 147. 178 of those cases/referrals related to Animal Welfare including illegal hunting; 4 of those cases related to excise fraud, including fuel and tobacco; 5 related to fraud matters; 7 related to CITES (Endangered Species) issues and 9 cases involved miscellaneous matters involving drugs, theft etc.

Agencies to whom we passed intelligence in the period included: HMRC, the police (England, Wales and Scotland), Local Authorities (England, Wales and Scotland) and numerous animal welfare charities with shared aims (i.e. RSPCA, APS and the League Against Cruel Sports).

The trends identified that there was a significant uptick in the numbers of people complaining about petting zoos and similar sites.

We have also carried out a fair amount of work on rabbit meat farm planning application monitoring (in company with other charities and groups).

There has been a noticeable increase in new breeders advertising online since the pandemic and keeping track of these, and monitoring numbers, has been a significant portion of the work in the last 6 months.

This autumn, Mark will be starting a project looking at Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and the scale of breeding issues in the devolved administrations.

He is hoping to close down a few significant cases with some successful referrals in the next few months.

Emma is now a FRCVS

Congratulations Emma Milne

In this edition, we say a big congratulations to our columnist and RWAF patron, Dr Emma Milne. Emma was recently awarded the diploma of Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and is now an FRCVS. This is the highest award the college gives and was awarded for her ‘tireless advocacy’ for animal welfare and contributions to the profession in this field.

Mark Dron achieves Chartered Safety and Health Professional qualification

In addition to Mark’s work for the RWAF on Animal Welfare matters, he also assists the Senior Management Team with the provision of Health and Safety and Risk Management advice.

Mark has been involved in Health and Safety for many years, but only really started to consider it as a viable career after leaving the police in 2017.

Health and Safety professionals are expected to be members of a professional body called the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), and this membership is in grades, dependent upon the qualifications and experience of the safety professional.

The highest membership level is Chartered, and the process for attaining this is a long one, based on obtaining a level 6 qualification in H&S and then completing a lengthy process of Continuous Professional Development (CPD), evidencing of skills and abilities through a monitored and assessed development programme, and finally a peer based interview to assess the candidate’s suitability to become chartered.

Mark has been working on this off and on since 2018, when he attained his safety diploma, and began the Chartership process in January this year, just as he was recovering from Covid.

Mark passed the final interview at the end of September, and has now been confirmed as a Chartered Safety and Health Professional. This enables him to prove to his clients and colleagues that he can offer professional and valuable services in the field of Health and Safety and Risk Management, and he is looking forward to being able to further develop this field for both the RWAF Management Team and his colleagues and employers outside the Charity.

Rabbit Awareness Action Group (RAAG)

The Rabbit Awareness Action Group (RAAG) is a trusted voice for rabbit welfare, which draws on the combined knowledge of a coalition of experts who have, for over more than 15 years, campaigned effectively through Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) to improve the lives of pet rabbits.

The formation of RAAG reflects the need to establish an on-going dialogue that ensures rabbit welfare remains high on the agenda year-round. Members of RAAG are committed to raising awareness of the five key welfare needs of rabbits, particularly in light of the Good Practice Code for the Welfare of Rabbits in England by the All-Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.

Recognising that rabbits are one of the UK’s most owned, but least understood, animals, RAAG is determined to build on the profound and positive campaigning, which 15 years of RAW has already achieved, helping to ensure that the UK’s pet rabbits are able to lead happy and healthy lives.

Who is RAAG?

RAAG brings together the expertise of the RAW partners who have successfully campaigned to improve the welfare of pet rabbits for the past 15 years.

Led by Burgess Pet Care, RAAG comprises the RSPCA, Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF), Wood Green The Animals Charity, Blue Cross and PDSA.

Objectives

  1. Continue to improve the lives of the UK’s pet rabbits by raising awareness of their five key welfare needs among new and established owners.

• Environment
• Diet
• Behaviour
• Companionship
• Health

  1. Champion and raise awareness and understanding of Good Practice Code for the Welfare of Rabbits by the All-Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.
  2. Use their collective voice to lobby and influence policy makers and decision makers on the importance of improving the welfare of pet rabbits in the UK.
  3. Work in partnership with, and provide guidance and support to, the veterinary community to encourage more rabbit-friendly vets’ practices.
  4. Educate potential pet rabbit owners and help them to decide whether they are ready to own rabbits, and how to prepare to welcome them into the family.
  5. Educate retailers about rabbits’ welfare needs to ensure that consumers can access suitable housing, food and play equipment.
  6. Support and champion existing campaigns from rabbit advocates and ambassadors, including the RWAF’s ‘A Hutch is Not Enough’ campaign.
  7. Ensure owners are aware of pet rabbits’ changing needs as they grow older, including having a life-stage appropriate diet and making adaptations to their housing.
  8. Encourage owners to “adopt don’t shop” .

Follow https://www.rabbitawarenessactiongroup.co.uk/sign-our-letter/ or use the QR code opposite, to sign into the RAAG letter.

Research award

A research project by the RWAF and academic experts won the poster prize at the annual Association for Veterinary Teaching and Research Work conference in Dublin on 2nd and 3rd September.

The project aimed to find out about the amount of veterinary education provided on rabbits, and how effective it is perceived to be, through a survey promoted via social media to veterinary professionals.

Results showed that many vets lack confidence, with only 1 in 10 vets feeling well-prepared after graduation. This confidence improves thanks to CPD (Continuing Professional Development), but more than half did not currently feel very confident when treating rabbits.
40% of vets received one day or fewer of teaching on rabbits during their degree. The majority of respondents identified increasing the amount of teaching as the best way to improve competence and confidence in treating rabbits.

The survey was conducted by Hartpury University postgraduate student Nicola Clements, Senior Lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire Dr. Richard Rolfe, and the RWAF’s Veterinary Adviser Richard Saunders. Though it was a small survey, it offers clear indicators that education on rabbits during veterinary degrees needs to change, and that further research on this is needed.

The winning poster illustrating the research findings

Petition

Our petition to stop pet rabbits being cooped up in tiny hutches now stands at over 90,000 signatures. Our target is 100,000 so please sign if you haven’t already, and of course please share the link as widely as possible. It can be found on our website under Campaigns > Hutch is Not Enough Petition. The petition goes hand in hand with the Good Practice Guidelines that were recently implemented to make owners aware of their responsibility to meet their rabbits’ welfare needs. We covered the Good Practice Guidelines in the last issue but you can read more about them on the website: Campaigns > Codes of practice for companion rabbits

Car stickers

We hope you love the car sticker that’s included in this issue! This came about as a result of a call to the helpline from Elizabeth, a member who suggested that we do something along these lines to raise awareness of the importance of keeping rabbits together. It would be lovely if everybody can display the sticker and help spread the vital message that rabbits should not be kept alone.

Thank you so much for the feedback and the suggestion Elizabeth, we hope you are pleased to see your idea come to life!

Rabbit ownership survey

We recently posted a survey on social media to help us understand who rabbit owners are, and allow us to show politicians that rabbit welfare matters to significant proportion of voters. A huge thank you to everyone who responded.

The results of the survey should allow us to improve understanding of rabbit ownership amongst regulators, government, and businesses so that we can call on them to do more to improve standards for pet rabbits.

A massive thank you to Andrew O’Brien, another fantastic volunteer who has a vast amount of experience not only in working with charities but also with MPs. We are hugely grateful to Andrew for his time and expertise.

The results of the survey make interesting reading:

• 47.88% of owners were aged 36-55 years old; this was the largest age group
• Most people (50.05%) stated they spent between £20-50 per month on their rabbits
• 90.57% of respondents stated the current government does not pay enough attention to rabbit welfare
• 32.47% stated rabbit welfare issues were very important when influencing their voting behaviour, and 41.52% stated it was somewhat important.

Rabbit farm planning applications

This year has seen us oppose planning applications for another three rabbit farms. So far, they have all been refused. Thank you to everyone who donated, which allowed us to raise objections based on planning law, which is the only way to succeed and requires a specialist planning consultant. Because meat farms are out of our charitable remit, we are not able to use our own funds for this. This is why we have to carry out separate fund raisers, and you have always stepped up. We can only do what we do because of your wonderful support, thank you.

RWAF YouTube Channel

Have you seen our new YouTube channel? Our wonderful volunteer Alice Higgs, a third year student studying Animal Welfare and Society at the University of Winchester, has been hard at work improving the look and the content of the RWAF channel. As well as making the channel look more appealing, Alice has been researching what type of videos on YouTube are popular with rabbit owners. This will help us to produce content that will have the biggest impact.

Most excitingly, Alice has hosted some ‘reaction’ videos, which feature our very own fabulous Dr Richard Saunders, along with our amazing Patron Dr Emma Milne. The videos respond to existing YouTube content and add the important facts about rabbit welfare that viewers and owners need to know. Reaction videos can be made in response to both positive and negative content, but sadly there are countless videos on YouTube that contain terrible welfare messages. The videos will be loaded in the very near future.

The end goal here, other than raising awareness, is to try to get YouTube to look at its Terms of Content, because so much of the footage it includes, like the infamous rabbit in the sink video, is extremely harmful and should not be included as entertainment. Our videos are the first step towards asking YouTube to look at what content it allows in terms of animal welfare.

In the meantime, our fantastic volunteer, Penny King, is using the RWAF YouTube account to comment on videos from other channels and point viewers to our website, so they can find reliable and up to date information, which is sadly lacking in a lot of content that is out there.
To find our channel, go to YouTube and search Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund.

Parliamentary rabbit photos

Another of Andrew’s suggestions was to have a Parliamentary photo competition. To improve standards of rabbit welfare, we need to get the Government to take a more active stance on rabbit welfare issues. As a way of raising awareness and gathering supporters for our cause within Westminster, we asked MPs, lords, and their staff to submit photographs of their bunnies. This was a fun way to engage parliamentarians and at the same time, better educate them on rabbit welfare. We were really pleased that the MP’s engaged well with the competition. Our winners were as follows:

  1. Ian Paisley
  2. Baroness Finlay
  3. Lynda Holton
Ian Paisley Flopsy and Thumper
Baroness Finlay Bob and Miriam
Lynda Holton Oscar and Molly