Thursday, 14 April 2016

Rabbits demand deep cooperation

I was munching on a chocolate rabbit's ear, Easter Sunday, thinking about rabbits. We'd had a seminar on rabbit management at the Neighbourhood House, hosted by Riddells Creek Landcare, and they were on my mind. What a nightmare! The first rabbits that came with the First Fleet actually didn't survive in the wild and it took the dedicated work of The Victorian Acclimatisation Society, just down the road near Geelong, to get them established on the mainland. 24 rabbits were released on Christmas Day 1859, for hunting and to help settlers feel more 'at home'.

So now we have the perpetual task of killing enough rabbits to keep their numbers low enough not to reproduce and overwhelm us, but without ever being able to get rid of them completely. We heard that at Skipton, the other side of Ballarat, farmers are keeping rabbit numbers down below one rabbit per spotlight kilometre, but that takes total cooperation.

The rabbits are just half of the challenge. The last government staff left standing are trying to hold the line on rabbits, but their expertise is technology and information, and that only goes so far. They're stitching together a campaign to release a new strain of virus that kills rabbits in the middle of next year, and our little meeting was one stop on a roadshow encouraging the rest of us to be ready to destroy our local rabbit warrens just after that release, when rabbits are at their lowest ebb.

That is a massive task demanding cooperation between neighbours across the landscape, and while our three speakers on the night got us started with information, they didn't leave time for us to talk with each other to work out how we can cooperate to do this.

Getting our neighbours into the game is as difficult as finding the next virus that kills rabbits, and I have to confess I left the evening feeling I'd been given enough information to reach the point of despair, but without time to build with the other landowners there some possibility of hope!

Anyway, the Landcare committee will put their heads together to work out what to do next on rabbits. On a happier note, you'll have noticed the orange-brown patches of weed along roads around Riddells. That's the awful Carpetweed, or Galenia pubescens, turning up its toes after spraying by our contractor.

In a joint project between Landcare and Greening of Riddell, Lyn Hovey tracked down Galenia locations over summer, and she found several outbreaks in the new estates. This weed loves newly broken soil, where it moves in to smother everything else, but you can see it around town - beside the pedestrian crossing at the Primary School and by the Bakery, for example.

So the job's done for this year, not without a bit of grumbling from the Shire. The office people rang up to question who we had permission from, and who gave us the money, and did we know how to use the chemicals, in short, did we know what we were doing, as if we wouldn’t after 10 years of doing it.

Anyway Riddellers, keep an eye out for Galenia, now you know about it, email Lyn if you spot it ( and check out our map of its past locations, at the Riddells Creek Landcare website, under "Projects".