Expect mild winter to fuel rabbit explosion
The rabbit population in the Wakatipu basin and Central Otago is the worst for years but farmers and lifestyle block owners should do their bit to deter the ‘‘destructive bastards’’, a Morven Ferry landowner says. Otago has the dubious distinction of having the most rabbit-prone land of any region in New Zealand and after a mild winter the breeding population is expected to peak by summer. Landowners are required to keep rabbit numbers at level three on the modified McLean scale - meaning infrequent signs of rabbits. Wakatipu farmer, gold miner and author Alan ‘‘Hammy’’ Hamilton knows a thing or two about running a block of land. He moved to the Wakatipu in 1946, his brother bulldozed access to Bob’s Peak in the 1960s during the fledgling tourism years and he was one of the first to give deer farming a go back in the 1970s. He hired Southland firm Us Buggers to lay gas pellets and fill rabbit holes on his property, a 600ha deer block. ‘‘It’s nothing new, we’ve being doing it for years and years. This year they’ve really exploded with the drought and a chance to breed earlier in the winter. I can’t help it if the neighbours let them breed but I can’t afford it. ‘‘It’s only three years since we 1080-ed the hill. This could not have been a worse year for rabbits.’’ Two years ago Hamilton paid $10,000 for a helicopter 1080 poison drop on a rabbit-infested hill bordering his property. Rabbit control is nothing new but these days there are fewer fulltime farmers and more life- style block owner, some of whom take a hands-off approach. Hamilton said the Otago Regional Council, responsible for monitoring the spread of rabbit populations in the region, could do more. Lifestyle block owners might not know that independent firms will visit farms and blocks to deal with the population. ‘‘The regional council has got to offer a wee bit more help, explain to them that people can go around and gas their holes, check their fences.’’ Federated Farmers Otago, North Otago and Southland senior policy adviser David Cooper said lifestyle block owners were often not managing rabbit populations. ‘‘It’s simply not happening, it’s creating real issues for farmers who have to go to the expense of controlling rabbits on their property. ‘‘There’s no scale, you can be two hectares or 200ha. ‘‘The council could be doing a bit more in terms of going and telling those smaller landowners what they can do.’’ Otago Regional Council director of regional services Jeff Donaldson said regional authorities and district councils can require a landowner to produce a management plan for pest control and issue a notice of direction if they do not comply then bill the landowner for costs. Difficulty arises when landowners fail to comply and there was a lot of farmland bordering lifestyle blocks, whose owners sometimes did not consider rabbits undesirable. ‘‘One of the problems we have in the Wakatipu, although we had good support from a number of landowners and the Queenstown Lakes District Council, is when we carried out a large operation around Lake Hayes there were a number of people who refused to be part of it. ‘‘We have not achieved the level of control we wanted in that location.’’ In Otago, 161 properties were subject to pest control management plans but with the increase in rabbits after a mild winter, Mr Donaldson said he expected this to hit the 300-mark by summer.
Bumper crop: Alan Hamilton on his Morven Ferry Rd farm.