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Myxomatosis, a viral disease of the European wild rabbit, reached
Britain in 1953. Within a year it had killed tens of millions of rabbits from Kent to the Shetlands. Winston Churchill, the Archbishop of York and members of the public raised on the tales of Beatrix Potter were appalled, deploring the loss of a cheap nutritional foodstuff. Many farmers, on the other hand, welcomed the demise of a serious agricultural pest and deliberately spread the disease. The government resisted appeals to legislate against the deliberate spreading of the disease until passing the 1954 Pests Act, as a result by 1955 some 90% of the UK rabbit population had been wiped out. Britain's myxomatosis outbreak has hitherto attracted little historical attention.
In the first book dedicated to this subject, Peter Bartrip examines how the disease reached and spread in the UK. He argues that it was not the government who was responsible, as many thought at the time, but for the first time Bartrip names the individual who may have deliberately brought myxomatosis from France. Bartrip tracks the response of government and other interested parties and considers the impact of rabbit de-population on agriculture and the natural environment. The cultural significance of this disease raises topical and controversial issues which are important if we are to learn lessons from more recent animal disease epidemics such as foot and mouth, BSE and H5N1 avian influenza.