Farmer suggests subsidy to help with pest control
Rabbit populations in Central Otago are not decreasing despite the Otago Regional Council enforcing management plans and landowners spending thousands of dollars to eradicate the pests.
Under the council's pest management strategy, landowners are required to keep rabbit numbers at level three on the modified McLean scale, meaning only the occasional rabbit is seen and signs of rabbits are infrequent with faecal pellet heaps more than 10 metres apart. Of 60 properties in Otago classified at or above level three, 50 were in Central Otago.
Otago Regional Council director of regional services Jeff Donaldson said the council was working with landowners to develop management plans to control rabbits.
"Central Otago is the most rabbit-prone part of New Zealand. You don't need many rabbits to clean up a sheep's food supply," he said.
However, if a landowner did not comply with plans, and rabbit populations were above level three, they would be given a "notice of direction".
If they continued not to comply, the council would hire a contractor, bill them for the work and they could be prosecuted under biosecurity laws.
But a Central Otago farmer said not enough was being done by the council to help fight the problem.
Cardrona Valley farmer Ben Gordon said he spent $40,000 on rabbit control in 2011, which included shooting the animals from a helicopter.
"It's ingrained in farmers if we don't control our rabbits, we lose on produce and quality," Mr Gordon said.
However, it was not sustainable to spend that amount every year and budgets were becoming tighter, he said.
The nature of the rabbit and the speed at which they could reproduce meant it was a constant cost to landowners.
Not all landowners in the region needed to control rabbits as part of their livelihood and, for example, those living on lifestyle blocks or those who could not afford it were not always doing so.
More council help was needed to fight the infestation and help with the financial cost.
A subsidy on pest control to help farmers was something the council needed to consider, Mr Gordon said.
The Modified McLean Scale of Rabbit Infestation:
Level one: No signs of rabbits. No rabbits seen.
Level two: Very infrequent signs present. Unlikely to see rabbits.
Level three: Signs infrequent with faecal pellet heaps more than 10m apart. Occasional rabbits may be seen.
Level four: Signs frequent with some faecal pellet heaps more than 5m but less than 10 metres apart. Groups of rabbits may be seen.
Level five: Signs very frequent with faecal pellet heaps less than 5m apart in pockets. Rabbits spreading.
Level six: Signs very frequent with faecal pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over whole area. Rabbits may be seen over whole area.
Level seven: Signs very frequent with two to three faecal pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over whole area. Rabbits may be seen in large numbers over whole area.
Level eight: Signs of rabbits very frequent with three or more faecal pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over whole area. Rabbits likely to be seen in large numbers over whole area.
Otago Southland Farmer