6 Aug 2023

Otago council checks compliance of rabbit population control efforts

8:38 am on 6 August 2023
A wild rabbit in a burrow. Oryctolagus cuniculus.

Hotspots have been identified around Ettrick, Lake Hayes, Gibbston, Moeraki and the Otago Peninsula during night counts last year. (file image) Photo: 123RF / Andres Victorero

Roughly a third of rabbit inspections in Otago communities were compliant last financial year, but the regional council says it is working with groups to help them coordinate their control efforts.

Otago Regional Council conducted 550 rabbit inspections last financial year - 295 were of rural properties with a compliance rate of roughly 70 percent.

Council environmental implementation manager Libby Caldwell said 255 of them were part of community programmes with a 33 percent compliance rate.

The council was working with them to support and help to coordinate their control efforts and had boosted funding and resourcing to assist with education, she said.

If that did not work, the council could send requests for work letters or a notice of direction.

"For some of our non-compliant properties, we have issued notices of direction to the land occupiers. But we obviously try and take an education first approach when we're working in the biosecurity compliance space," Caldwell said.

More than 20 notices of direction have been issued in the past two years - some were now compliant and others remained active.

"We wanted to wait until the end of winter, which is a really good time for land occupiers to be undertaking their poisoning work when there's less grass around and rabbits are looking for other food sources," Caldwell said.

The council had not started giving lax landowners the bill yet. Caldwell remained hopeful it would not get to that stage, but she said it was an option if work was not done or their neighbours were being significantly impacted.

Hotspots have been identified around Ettrick, Lake Hayes, Gibbston, Moeraki and the Otago Peninsula during night counts last year.

There were additional challenges about controlling rabbits when rural land was converted into housing, Caldwell said.

"Things like shooting and poisoning in areas where there's small children and dogs aren't always suitable. Whereas in the past, if there was just one or two landowners and that was a rural property, they would have been able to utilise those techniques to control their rabbit numbers.

"It's also tricker for the coordination of multiple landowners in those urban areas to undertake control at the same time."

The council was working with Queenstown Lakes District Council to try and educate developers and get them onboard with doing control before they started sub-dividing, Caldwell said.

The council gave funding to community groups last year to install rabbit fencing, develop rabbit management plans and build awareness of the issue.

Caldwell was happy with the work the groups had been making since receiving the funding.

A further $150,000 in incentive funding was announced during the council's March funding round to support community groups to work collaboratively.

The council had boosted the regional coverage of rabbit night count monitoring routes from 16 to 31 in 2023, and was using aerial surveillance, thermal imaging, educational videos and other tools to help tackle the issue, Caldwell said.