Ex­pect mild win­ter to fuel rab­bit ex­plo­sion

Central Otago Mirror - - FRONT PAGE - By JOHN EDENS

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.

Photo: JOHN EDENS / FAIR­FAX NZ 628504470

Bumper crop: Alan Hamil­ton on his Mor­ven Ferry Rd farm.

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