A new American system of rodent control is helping UK farmers counter the rabbit menace.

This time last year, it looked like the battle against British farmers’ least favourite pest was being lost. Milder winters meant rabbits were breeding faster, myxomatosis seemed to be losing its punch and Cymag gas was no longer available for gassing burrows. Worse than that, every jump in the price of grain automatically made the financial pain of rabbit grazing losses that much greater.

But Robin Purser from Rodex Europe has ridden to farmers’ aid with a piece of US equipment called the Rodenator. This time last year he expected to sell 50 of them, but in the event he has shifted 500, 95% direct to farmers.

The Rodenator looks like a giant gas welding lance. It mixes 95% oxygen and 5% propane in a combustion chamber and pumps it into rabbit, rat or mole burrows. Being heavier than air, the mixture percolates through the burrow, so there is no need (as with gassing) to stop up all the entrances.

The operator then presses a button to release a high-voltage spark into the combustion chamber. The burning propane superheats the oxygen, which expands at a massive rate. The effect is to send a 5000ft/second concussive shock throughout the burrow. “You can feel the ground shake and on sandy land it’s like dropping a stick of dynamite,” he says.

Rodenator

In the USA and other countries, the Rodenator is used to kill rodents instantly and humanely in the burrow. But under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, DEFRA has licensed the Rodenator in the UK only as a means of collapsing burrows that have previously been emptied by gassing or ferrets.

A single lance costs £1680 + VAT, says Mr Purser. While most of the units have been bought by farmers, there is also a growing market for contractors to do the job. Maintenance needs are minimal and the gas costs are about £45-£50 for a flat-out day, he adds.

Nick Foxton of NF Services, a fencing and pest control contractor, started offering a Rodenating service across Essex, Suffolk and Hertfordshire two months ago, but says he is rushed off his feet. He reckons it takes about one minute per burrow to do the job, and on some days will destroy 250-300 burrows a day.

Is it dangerous? Thanks to flashback arrestors on the lance and the fact that the mixture becomes harmless as soon as it hits the open air, it’s very safe, says Mr Purser.

“It certainly makes a hell of a bang and you need to be wearing eye and ear protection, especially if you’re working on stony ground,” says Mr Foxton. “You have to watch out for gas exploding out of unseen bolt holes, too it can be pretty frightening to have 40kg of soil heading for your crotch at 5000ft/second.”

More information

Rodex UK 07739-799721 or www.rodenator.eu

NF Services 07855 686 428

There’s an entertaining video on Rodenator’s US site explaining how satisfying it is to use.

If you simply want to hear what it sounds like, click below