Rabbit damage to vineyards confronts farmers and hunters in Spain.
The conflict over the management of European rabbits that cause damage to vineyards in Spanish farmland areas was studied by conducting interviews and discussions with farmers, hunters (who are legally responsible in Spain for controlling game populations causing damage) and members of official environmental and agricultural agencies in two sites in Spain. It was shown that most controversies between farmers and hunters arose because of their different perceptions of the causes of rabbit damage and the way in which it should be managed. Farmers, either implicitly or explicitly, blamed hunters for excessive rabbit numbers as they considered that, when asked to do so (i.e. when crop damage by rabbits is denounced), they do not kill rabbits in sufficient numbers because this would compromise leisure hunting in the future. In contrast, aggressive farming practices were viewed by hunters as the root of rabbit damage to crops because they considered that no alternative food sources are available for rabbits in intensive agricultural areas. These results highlight that the intensity of the conflict was perceived as having decreased after rabbit numbers (and thus their damage) declined as a consequence of the outbreak of a rabbit viral disease. However, scepticism about a definitive solution remained among the interviewees, and a latent conflict persisted. The reciprocal distrust among both parties and their inevitably confronting interests suggest that disputes could escalate in the future if rabbits increased, or if certain events changed the current status quo triggering further discontent. The latter could include current recurrent pressures from farming organizations to increase rabbit control or ongoing claims from the hunting sector to include environmental measures aimed at the recovery of small-game in the new European CAP.