Predator control underway in South Canterbury with some farmers expected to spend up to $60,000

Last updated 16:31 14/09/2017

A station in the Mackenzie District. Mackenzie farmers with a rabbit, wallaby and pine tree problem could spend up to $60,000 this year, according to Federated Farmers.

Wallabies are moving into the Mackenzie District.
A black-fronted tern chick on the Rangitata River. On the upper Rangitata River, DOC was well into the third season of a programme geared towards protecting the wrybill, and the endangered black fronted tern.
A DOC ranger works on the Rangitata River. DOC is in its third season of a predator-trapping programme to protect the black-fronted tern and the wrybill.

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Booming pest populations may mean some South Canterbury farmers will spend up to $60,000 controlling incursions, it has been suggested.

​Predator control is well underway in the region as the wet and often mild winter turns to a warm spring.

As a consequence, there are already signs the rabbit population may boom and that some property owners, particularly in the Mackenzie district, will have big control costs.

Environment Canterbury biosecurity team leader Brent Glentworth said most of the cost of pest control in the district was borne by private landowners. 

"Environment Canterbury is not carrying out any widespread pest control operations in South Canterbury at present but does work on inspecting land and advising landowners as required, as well as working strategically with other partners," Glentworth said. 

"Our wallaby programme is an ongoing focus. In terms of other pest control, we also focus on introduced pest plants targeted for eradication, such as wild thyme and bur daisy." 

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Spring always brought a spike in rabbit numbers, as it was the peak rabbit breeding season. 

"While no serious rabbit issues have emerged in South Canterbury over the last 20 years, a number of nuisance reports generally come in as rabbit kittens become more prevalent scratching in gardens and on lawns around the urban fridge of many towns," Glentworth said. 

DOC ranger Damien Bromwich said few of the Timaru district areas were "excessively rabbit-prone". 

However, Mackenzie District mayor Graham Smith said rabbits were a continual nuisance around the township of Tekapo.

He did not believe the problem was getting worse, but there was constant "revitalisation". "They love to breed," he said. 

Federated Farmers high country chairman, and president of the North Otago branch, Simon Williamson said high country farmers in the Mackenzie District spent about $12,000 to $18,000 a year on pest control alone - but if they had a wallaby problem that number could go up to $30,000.

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"They are moving into the Mackenzie," he said. 

In addition, they could spend between $5000 and $20,000 on weed control. 

If people had a rabbit, wallaby and pine tree problem, they could spend up to $60,000 a year.

"We hope this K5 virus comes in, in the spring. Last time I heard it was supposed to be here in October," he said. 

In the Timaru District, ECan was involved in a new long-tailed bat protection programme at Raincliff, with the Department of Conservation and landowners Port Blakely, involving nearly 200 pest traps being laid and then maintained. 

"[It helps] protect the small population from pests such as possums, rats, stoats and ferrets," Glentworth said. 

"Environment Canterbury is funding the trapping equipment and the Department of Conservation and Port Blakely will regularly maintain the traps." 

ECan already spent $50,000 every year on possum, stoat, rat, ferret and weasel control in the Kakahu Bush.

A Timaru District Council spokesman said the council undertook pest control on council parks and reserves, including cemeteries. 

It targeted rabbits, hares and possums. 

"The overall cost of control varies depending on pest numbers in any given year, but can be up to $10,000 a year." 

On the upper Rangitata River, DOC was well into the third season of a programme geared towards protecting the wrybill, and the endangered black fronted tern. 

Trapping took place from July to February. 

Geraldine ranger Brent Edwards said last year 11 per cent of wrybill chicks fledged successfully, with 11 per cent of nests attacked by predators.  

"[Outside] the trapping area 82 per cent of nests were predated and no eggs hatched. Nothing fledged," Edwards said. 

"Each one [is] precious because their numbers are low despite the number of breeding seasons during a lifetime." 

Fellow ranger Damien Bromwich said during the past two seasons the traps had caught 166 stoats, 139 ferrets, 60 weasels, 334 rats, 119 possum, 197 cats, 47 mice, 154 rabbits and 1754 hedgehogs.

"Hedgehogs may not look like killers, but they eat eggs." 

He could not say how much the programme cost DOC, as it was run in conjunction with other agencies. 

- The Timaru Herald


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