In the 12th century, conies, or rabbits as they are now called, were brought to England by the Normans. Rabbit, originally was the name for a baby rabbit, but more recently has become the term to define both adults and babies. Rabbits were bred for food and fur. These domesticated rabbits soon established wild populations.    In the 14th century, Gaston Phoebus, a French count, wrote a book (1387) in which he explained different methods of hunting rabbits. In one illustration, muzzled ferrets were sent down rabbit holes while men with nets waited at the other holes for the rabbits to pop out.  Meanwhile in Britain, for 900 years after their introduction, they were seen as a major economic asset. Rabbits were able to breed rapidly, supply fur, and (since refrigeration was not available) were just the right size for a meal without leftovers. These attributes made them a great asset. They were kept in walled enclosures called 'warrens', which is now used to refer to all rabbit colonies and burrows.  In the 1700s rabbit population in Britain greatly expanded. Farmland management began favoring extensive hedgerows enclosing fields. The hedges were an ideal habitat for the rabbit to build a burrow right next to an entire field of food.  But it wasn't until the early 20th century that their numbers skyrocketed.  By the 1950s rabbits were inflicting an estimated 50,000,000£ worth of damage a year. 
A baby rabbit
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In 1953 Myxomatosis spread from France to Britain. Myxoma is a virus that is spread quickly by rabbit fleas. It killed more than 99% of all the rabbits in Britain in two years.  However, rabbits have not always simply been viewed as a meal or pest. Starting in the Victorian times, pet rabbits gained in popularity. Currently, they are the third most popular mammal kept as a pet in the UK, replacing the more traditional family dog or cat.  The Belgian hare was the first domesticated rabbits to become popular in the United States. While rabbit hunting in America prior to the 1900s was common, domestic rabbitry did not become popular until the early 1900s.  Few, if any, breeds were developed from the native wild rabbit population.  The Belgian hare (a breed of European rabbit) is a fairly large rabbit that first caught the attention of rabbit fanciers, but later also gained popularity as a meat rabbit. Ultimately, breeds were developed to fit the rabbit fancier, the commercial meat market, and the fur industry. While many other rabbit breeds have followed the success of the Belgian hare, the Belgian hare itself is now a rare breed in the United States.  Their size makes them less popular with the urban populations, and few people in the US eat rabbit anymore.