Aug 19, 2018

A message from Scarlett Penn, Co-ordinator / Chief Exec

One of my beloved Continental Giant rabbits, Mr. Higgs, was recently killed. He wasn’t chased by a neighbour’s dog or stalked by a fox, dug out by a badger or swooped on by a bird of prey.

He was killed by a fly.

I found the maggots when they were very small and hurried him straight to the vet. Despite it having ticked past out-of-hours the vet and nurse were there waiting for me, and all three of us pinned poor Higgsy on his back and began the task of de-maggoting. We used gloves, combs, tweezers and unusually, gaseous anaesthetic, which made the maggots wriggle out of their hiding place and drop into our waiting container. After a couple of hours we thought we’d succeeded and home he came. I was pleased with myself for being vigilant and catching the fly-strike so early, and in deep gratitude to the vets for their caring and expertise.

Mr. Higgs rallied…but then over the next couple of days seemed to get more uncomfortable, sitting in odd positions and occasionally stamping his foot. Despite more checks, I couldn’t find any problem. Finally, as he went off his food, I had another desperate look and…oh my goodness…there they were, wriggling around deep in his nether regions. Poor, poor boy.

I removed these last 20 maggots, now perhaps 4mm long, in a panic, because when a rabbit stops eating the serious condition of gut stasis is likely to occur. This means the normal wave-like motions of the digestive system slow down allowing bad bacteria to build up, making the rabbit even more reluctant to eat or drink, in turn causing the condition to worsen and the gut to stop working altogether. And so it was: despite a final veterinary intervention to try and bring his appetite back, we lost him.

Mr Higgs on his favourite armchair eating the newspaperAt times like that you stand back, you ask WHY, you search for a point of learning or meaning. And as I sat tearfully by his grave that evening, trying to sidestep the inevitable self-blame and guilt that comes at these times, I thought about my 6 kg of Giant taken down by a team of tiny menaces wriggling around together. And I saw it as another (albeit terribly sad) example of how big things can be achieved through a little collective action. And then I thought about how that could be projected on to the job I do, and the passion that both WWOOF and I share for creating a future which is sustainable and respectful of all living beings.

I’ve heard lots of people say that simply by doing what it does WWOOF is acting to help change the system. How otherwise would people who have no contact with growing or nature get a view into the world of small-scale organic land stewardship? How else would they experience first-hand an alternative way of life with people already out there living it, already proving it can be done?

It’s true, we are helping effect change, but in these times of accelerating environmental and social problems, I don’t feel we can afford to rest there. How much more change could we be achieving if we were a stronger network of members, and if we as a charity were more strongly networked with other like-minded organisations?

So if you agree, let’s see what we can do to draw our network tighter. WWOOF UK’s steering group has been working up an idea to reach more of our members annually. And I’m now hatching a plan to try and strengthen key relationships within the sustainable farming and futures sector. What could you do?


photos: Scarlett Penn

The second photo is of Mr Higgs on his favourite armchair eating the newspaper.

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