Professor M gardens on the greensand ridge in Bedfordshire and tells me she is plagued by rabbits. I would set traps and welcome them as good eating, and at the same time admire them for keeping down the grass. She hits a point though. Warrens should be so straight-forward. ‘Free warren’ conveyed the right to hunt animals small enough to be taken by a hawk over a particular piece of land. That sounds simple enough. So the Professor’s additional question seems a reasonable one: why were so many removed the hey-day of that tireless titan of the garden spade, Capability Brown? In her own Bedfordshire, Ireland had planted up the warren at Woburn in the 1740s; in 1763 Lord Ongley proposed converting Warden Warren, to pasture; Ampthill Warren was enclosed and planted in 1770, presumably by Brown himself; planting at Nodes Warren, Southill, had probably begun while Brown was there as well. What about Chatsworth’s conigre, ploughed up and destroyed in 1758 to make Brown’s park; what about Ralph Allen’s Sham Castle, built in 1762 on the Warren opposite Prior Park, where Allen had already carried out extensive plantings. Tixall Heath, Staffordshire, ‘which was a part of the rabbit-warren that had not been brought into cultivation’ was planted with fir and oak in Brown’s time; as were the Belvoir Warrens in the early 1790s, shortly after Brown had delivered his opinion of the place.
Yet, Brown’s clients were keen enough on their field sports, and he was perfectly happy to create the space for them, like Rough Park at North Stoneham, Black Park at Langley, and sporting seats like Wakefield Lodge.
The fact is however that as the return on them fell, rabbit warrens had become messy and disordered.