Northampton Electronic Collection of Theses and Research

Myxomatosis in 1950s Britain

Bartrip, P. W. J. (2007) Myxomatosis in 1950s Britain. Twentieth Century British History. 19(1) 1477-4674.

Item Type: Article
Abstract: In 1953 myxomatosis, a viral disease of rabbits, broke out in Britain for the first time. It rapidly killed tens of millions of the animals from Kent to the Shetlands. Many farmers and foresters welcomed a disease that virtually eliminated a long-standing and serious agricultural pest. Others were horrified by the sight of thousands of dead and dying animals. With meat still rationed, consumers rued the loss of a cheap and nutritious foodstuff. Rough shooters deplored the loss of prey and hatters and furriers the unavailability of the fur on which their businesses depended. Rabbits also had champions within the ‘establishment’; these included Winston Churchill who was personally influential in making deliberate transmission of the disease a criminal offence. The arrival in Britain of myxomatosis presented the authorities with difficult questions: should they try to contain it, spread it or do nothing; should they take advantage of rabbit depopulation and try to exterminate such a destructive animal? In the event the outbreak was allowed to run its course and rabbit extermination became government policy. This article considers who or what was responsible for the disease reaching the UK and how it then spread throughout the country. It examines the responses of government, other institutions and members of the public. Finally, it explores the impact of rabbit de-population on agriculture, the natural environment and public opinion
Additional Information: First published online on 6 November 2007
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain > DA566 20th century
S Agriculture > SK Hunting sports > SK351 Wildlife management. Game protection
S Agriculture > SF Animal culture > SF600 Vetinary medicine > SF951 Diseases of special classes of animals > SF997.5.R2 Rabbit diseases
Creators: Bartrip, Peter W J
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Faculties, Divisions and Institutes: University Faculties, Divisions and Research Centres - OLD > Faculty of Education & Humanities > History
Faculties > Faculty of Education & Humanities > History
Date: 9 November 2007
Date Type: Publication
Journal or Publication Title: Twentieth Century British History
Volume: 19
Number: 1
Language: English
ISSN: 1477-4674
Status: Published / Disseminated
Refereed: Yes

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