1080 needed for Mackenzie rabbits

Aerial 1080 poisoning is returning to the Mackenzie Basin after a 10-year absence as farmers confront growing rabbit problems.

Populations of RHD (calicivirus) resistant rabbits are emerging in the high country.

The presence of RHD  has removed the need for aerial control for a decade, but this month Sawdon Station will carry out an aerial programme and other stations will follow.

Environment Canterbury has two more applications to use aerial 1080 in the basin in the pipeline. One is a group application for the stations along Haldon Road.

Ecan southern biosecurity team leader Brent Glentworth said RHD was still effective in some areas and immunity ranged from 35 to 80 per cent across populations.

Where the effectiveness of RHD was diminished, populations had reached problem levels, even on par with rabbit numbers before the release of the virus in 1997.

In Ecan's southern region, 77 farms have received notices of direction to reduce rabbit numbers since June 2005. Of these, 26 have been issued in the last eight months.

The vast majority of these farms are in the Waitaki catchment, including the Mackenzie Basin and Hakataramea.

Mr Glentworth said that under user pays, landowner's decided how to control rabbits. On larger properties with high populations aerial control was the most efficient option.

Mt Hutt Pest Control are conducting the fixed-wing carrot drop on Sawdon Station, and Excell Corporation have an aerial poison drop confirmed and are pricing other work.

Sue Allan from Sawdon Station said aerial control was a financial burden, but rabbit numbers were affecting stock capacity. The drought had not only increased competition for feed it had increased rabbit numbers, dry burrows meant increased reproduction.

Haldon Station manager Paddy Boyd said aerial control cost between $40 and $70 a hectare - a major cost when applied to the scale of high country farming.

Grampians Station farmer Guy King said rabbit numbers hadn't reached the trigger level, but an application to use 1080 had been made. Aerial control was inevitable because if farmers did not keep below the trigger level Environment Canterbury would carry out the work and send the bill.

Both Mr Boyd and Mrs Allen said 10 years of research would have extended RHD usefulness. RHD still helped control rabbits and an epidemic had been through Haldon in autumn, possibly taking it back below the trigger level.

Mr Boyd didn't like returning to 1080 which in dry conditions meant land could not be stocked for up to three months.

``It's that dry we need every bit of land we have got.''

Generally farmers were despondent as the cost of pest control came on top of poor prices, drought and inflation.

Mr King said there were growing restrictions on farming and subdivision imposed in the public interest and so help was appropriate.

``I don't think it's just a farmer problem. We are being restricted in land use by the Government and local bodies. And Joe Public is having a huge say in what's happening in the Mackenzie Basin and if they want it to be as it is then someone should help as well.

``Rabbits are not just a farmer problem. On erosion grounds it will just become a desert basin.''

The Timaru Herald