Environmental destructors: the common rabbit in focus

When Thomas Austin introduced rabbits to Geelong in 1895, it is hard to imagine he had any idea of the problems this would cause. Nearly 118 years on, rabbits have become one of the coasts (and indeed Australia’s) biggest pests and show no sign of disappearing.

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Why are rabbits such a big problem?

While they may look cute and fluffy, rabbits cause large amounts of damage to crops and immeasurable damage to the environment, explains Surfcoast and Inland Plains Network Pest, Plant and Animal Project Manager Brian Vagg.

“Rabbits are suspected of being the most significant known factor in species loss in Australia [although] the loss of plant species is unknown at this time.

“They are also responsible for serious erosion problems as they eat native plants, leaving the topsoil exposed and vulnerable to sheet, gully and wind erosion,” Mr Vagg said.

What can we do to control the current rabbit population?

Mr Vagg said education and people working together on a large scale is the most effect means to control rabbit populations.

“Land managers/holders are responsible for controlling pest animals on their land, but many simply do not know where to start,” he said.

Control which takes place on a gradual month by month, year to year level is proving to be the most effective with neighbours working together using a variety of methods.

Successful methods can include fumigation, baiting, trapping, filling in existing warrens and removing possible burrow sites such as wood piles and gorse.

“Most rabbit control methods are quite labor-intensive and need to be done on a regular basis en mass ideally.

“Poisoning is probably the most widely used of the conventional techniques, as it requires the least effort. Two commonly used poisons for rabbit control are sodium fluoracetate (1080) and pindone,” he said.

For more information on rabbit control in the Surf Coast area contact Brian Vagg on scipn@bigpond.com

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Rabbits in the region are on the rise as the problematic pests gorge themselves on an abundance of lush feed following a wet summer.

Caleb Hurrell, Pest Management Officer from the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) says rabbits cause a range of impacts on the wider landscape.

“Impacts include overgrazing of native vegetation, displacement and direct competition with native fauna, soil erosion and reduced water quality.

“As little as 1 active warren entrance per hectare can prevent the regeneration of threatened native vegetation and in favourable conditions two rabbits can breed up to over 180 rabbits in 18 months,” he said.

The Torquay Landcare Group and the Surf Coast & Inland Plains Landcare Network are working to eradicate rabbits in Freshwater Creek, Moriac and Bellbrae.

Andy Smith, a local land owner and a member of the Torquay Landcare Group says controlling the pest is a huge challenge.

“It is a continuous effort to control the rabbit population and stop them exploding.

“We poison the rabbits over a week, and before and after poisoning we work to clean up areas that harbor rabbits such as warrens and wood piles,” said Mr. Smith.

The Great Ocean Road Coast Committee also runs an annual control program, focussing on rabbits residing in the dunes from Whites Beach to Point Impossible.

“The rabbits threaten important native plant species, reduce cover and destabilise the dunes,” said the Committee’s Acting Coastal Reserves Manager Mike Bodsworth.

Mr. Bodsworth said Pindone, the poison used in control programs, is of low toxicity to dogs.

“Routine notices are placed on sites where baiting has occurred and the poison used is not attractive to dogs,” said Mr Bodsworth.

How should people help?

Rabbits are classified as a declared established pest under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994. All landowners have a legal obligation to control rabbits on their property in Victoria.

The DPI says effective rabbit control relies on a coordinated effort involving all landholders in a geographic region.

“Combining a range of differing rabbit control techniques including warren ripping, fumigation, harbour removal is the most effective way to control rabbits,” said Mr. Hurrell.

Mr. Smith says rabbit control is a difficult process that needs to be well planned.

“A poorly thought out poisoning or ripping program can be an expensive waste of time.  The timing and selection of methods needs to be well thought out and coordinated with experts and neighbours,” he said.

Where can I find more information?

  • Call the DPI Customer Service Centre on 136 186 or visit www.dpi.vic.gov.au
  • Contact the Torquay Landcare Group on (03) 5266 1087 to get involved.
  • For more information on the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee’s rabbit control program call (03) 5220 5055.

This story was written by the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee and published in the Surf Coast Time’s Going Green Column.