6 Minute English
Rabbits: cuddly friends or cunning tricksters?
Episode 190418 / 18 Apr 2019
The animal people often associate with Easter is not free from controversy. Rabbits are cute and fluffy and a most adorable creature for some, but others find it a pest that can multiply rapidly and cause problems. Even in literature rabbits have been represented in very different ways: from the sweet characters of Beatrix Potter, to tricksters like Peter Rabbit. Neil and Rob talk about these furry animals and teach you related vocabulary.
This week's question
In the last rabbit survey in 1995, how many were estimated to exist in the UK? Is it...
b) 3,750,000, or
Listen to the programme to find out the answer.
a fan of something
somebody who is keen on something
very common or strongly established in a place or situation
an underground area where rabbits live, but also a building or a part of a town where there are lots of confusing passageways or streets where it is easy to get lost
an animal that hunts and kills another animal
something that has two opposing characteristics making it hard to understand
someone who deceives people to get what they want
Note: This is not a word for word transcript
Hello. This is 6 Minute English, I'm Neil. And joining me is Rob.
Rob, when we think of Easter, what do you think of?
Well, yes chocolate Easter eggs are an obvious symbol of Easter. But there is an animal people often associate with Easter...
Rabbits! Cute, adorable and fluffy – what's not to like about a rabbit?
Well, not everyone is a fan of them – by not a fan of I mean they don't like them. Some people think they are a pest. But we'll be telling you more about rabbits shortly.
That's good to know. Well, I'll tell you what I am a fan of and that is your quiz questions – so what are you going to ask me today?
It's all about wild rabbits. In the last rabbit survey in 1995, how many were estimated to exist in the UK? Is it...
b) 3,750,000, or
I know rabbits are everywhere in the UK but not 37 million of them – so I'll go for b) 3,750,000.
Well, you’ll have to wait until the end of the programme to find out. But you're right when you say rabbits are everywhere in the UK. It's probably true in other countries too. You could say they are endemic – meaning very common or strongly established in a place or situation.
But are they a typically British wild animal?
They are now but it's believed they were brought to the country by invaders – some say The Romans, others The Normans. But they eventually spread across the UK. Victoria Dickinson is author of a book called Rabbit and she's been telling the BBC Radio 4 programme Costing The Earth about what helped them spread...
Victoria Dickinson, author
It was really by the middle of the 17th Century when people really started to think about rabbit as being particularly British...and certainly there were more rabbits in Britain than in the rest of Europe. There was a calculation done that there are over 400 villages and towns in Britain with the word 'warren' in their name. So the rabbits were raised in Britain but they really kept to their warrens until there was the rise of fox hunting - when their predators disappeared rabbits do what rabbits do best, and they started to multiply and become wild, feral rabbits throughout the land.
So Victoria knows a thing or two about rabbits – and said the word 'warren' used in town and village names, is evidence that they've been in the UK since the mid-17th Century. A warren is the area underground where rabbits live with lots of holes and connected passages.
But today we use the word warren to mean a building or part of a town where there are lots of confusing passageways or streets. It's a kind of place where you get lost.
But it was rabbit warrens where rabbits would live until hunting, particularly fox hunting, was introduced and that killed many of the rabbit's predators. A predator is an animal that hunts and kills another animal.
Now, Victoria was talking about feral rabbits – so wild rabbits – not the sort people keep at pets in a rabbit hutch. Moving on – I'm interested to know why not everyone loves these cute little creatures, I mean, think of the rabbit characters in the Beatrix Potter stories.
Well they weren't always well behaved. And Victoria Dickinson spoke to the Costing the Earth programme about this. What word did she use to describe rabbits having the two opposite sides to their character?
Victoria Dickinson, author
The rabbit is a paradoxical animal; it has a lot of faces if you will. It's both wild and tame, it's timid but also has its reputation as trickster rabbit - if you think of Peter Cottontail, or you think of Br'er Rabbits - and I think our relationship with rabbit is the rabbit of the nursery rhyme, the rabbit of childhood or you think of Peter Rabbit.
She said that rabbits are paradoxical animals – that's the word that describes them having two opposing characteristics.
Yes – we think of them as wild, maybe a trickster – someone who deceives people to get what they want. Like Peter – what a cheeky rabbit!
But we also think of rabbits as tame – we have nursery rhymes about them, kids have soft cuddly rabbit toys. I say that they're the perfect symbol for Easter.
OK Rob, if you say so. But now let me answer the question I set you earlier. In the last survey of rabbits in 1995, how many were estimated to exist in the UK? Was it...
b) 3,750,000, or
Rob, what did you say?
I said b) 3,750,000.
Well, you're wrong Rob! A government survey put the population in the UK at 37.5 million – so a lot more. But despite its reputation, a recent survey suggests rabbit numbers in the UK have declined by around 60 per cent over the last 20 years.
That is sad news. But let's cheer ourselves up with a recap of the vocabulary we've discussed today, starting with a fan of.
When someone is a fan of something, they are keen on it, they like it a lot. If you're not a fan of something – you don't like it.
We mentioned endemic - meaning very common or strongly established in a place or situation.
And we talked about a warren – an underground area where rabbits live, but also a building or a part of a town where there are lots of confusing passageways or streets where it is easy to get lost.
A predator is an animal that hunts and kills another animal.
Paradoxical describes things that have two opposing characteristics making it hard to understand.
And a trickster is someone who deceives people to get what they want.
Well, I’m no trickster, it really has been six minutes so it's time to call it a day. Please join us next time.
Bye for now.
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. He is known throughout the world for his role in defeating Nazi Germany but he also made mistakes. Listen to Neil and Mike’s discussion, and learn new vocabulary.
Episode 150305 / 05 Mar 2015
We live in a richer world. But the gap between rich and poor is still very wide in individual countries. How to change this? Listen to Rob and Harry’s discussion, and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150226 / 26 Feb 2015
The price of vaccines has escalated and some poor countries are struggling to prevent children from catching certain life-threatening diseases, says Medecins Sans Frontieres. Listen to Rob and Neil’s discussion, and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150219 / 19 Feb 2015
Will thinking computers be the end of humans? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150212 / 12 Feb 2015
About 37,000 tourists are expected to visit Antarctica this season. But should they be going to a region with such a sensitive environment? Listen to Rob and Neil’s conversation and learn some new vocabulary.
Episode 150205 / 05 Feb 2015
At a time when more people compete for fewer jobs, are you sure you present your skills and abilities well to a potential employer? Listen to Rob and Neil's conversation and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150129 / 29 Jan 2015
Going to a party where you don't know anyone? Listen to Rob and Neil's advice and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150122 / 22 Jan 2015
We use computers for everything nowadays. Are we forgetting our own abilities - and losing our talent? Listen to Rob and Neil's discussion, and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150115 / 15 Jan 2015
Smoking in cars with children might be banned in England. Listen to Neil and Rob's chat and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150108 / 08 Jan 2015
Is bullying just an attempt to give a bad name to what is part of human nature? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150101 / 01 Jan 2015
What would you put in your time capsule? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141225 / 25 Dec 2014
When enemy soldiers sang together in WW1. Listen to Rob and Finn’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 141218 / 18 Dec 2014
The London school where students speak 42 different languages
Episode 141211 / 11 Dec 2014
Laughter isn't always the best medicine, says research
Episode 141204 / 04 Dec 2014
Are your pictures, documents and videos safe online? Listen to Rob and Finn's chat and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141127 / 27 Nov 2014
Nowhere to park? How the sharing economy is changing the way we use our space
Episode 141120 / 20 Nov 2014
How can science fiction help the world? Rob and Finn discuss a project which aims to inspire through stories of a bright future
Episode 141113 / 13 Nov 2014
Why is eating meat bad news?
Episode 141106 / 06 Nov 2014
Do real-life superheroes exist or are they just cartoon characters?
Episode 141030 / 30 Oct 2014
Rob and Finn discuss the World Health Organisation's recommendations on e-cigarettes
Episode 141023 / 23 Oct 2014
Should we eat less sugar? Listen to Rob and Neil and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141016 / 16 Oct 2014
Is learning English getting easier? Find out what's new
Episode 141009 / 09 Oct 2014
Why do we buy so much food and not eat it all? Learn more about food waste
Episode 141002 / 02 Oct 2014
Is it right to sleep at work? Rob and Finn discuss the benefits of sleeping on the job.
Episode 140929 / 29 Sep 2014
Is the way we see famous people a new thing? Learn about the first 'modern celebrity'.
Episode 140821 / 21 Aug 2014
Bored? You're not alone. Rob and Finn discuss how to deal with boredom and teach some related vocabulary. We promise you won't be bored!