Lives are meant to get easier

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Malcolm Fraser infamously reminded us that life is not meant to be easy, indeed each generation considers their lot hard. After some reflection it occurs that we do want life to get easier.

That’s what your family and forebears worked for and it is what you’re doing for your children, learning and working to make life different for them. Ours is a co-operative way of life, we elect our representatives to work for and on our behalf. It’s their job to direct the servants of the public to help us get things done that benefit the community and the catchment. Where farmers and town’s people put in their share reasonably, government can meet halfway. After years of working on the land, waterways and catchments we have this chance now. For now is the best or maybe the last chance. The work of others means we have the knowledge to remove Australia’s most costly pest – the rabbit – and be in charge of what plant species grows and survives on country.

Over 50 years of research proves that only by kicking the rabbit out can ecosystems recover. Just a rabbit per three hectares can stop natural regeneration in most landscapes in your state. All of the tree planting schemes, ever done pale in comparison with rabbit reduction. The returns from implementing effective rabbit control based off warren destruction are great; every dollar invested, ten comes back. Ten million dollars invested can return $100m for Victoria. The best efforts of farm and conservation managers will come to nought without effective rabbit control.

Lives are meant to get easier.

WAGS – Wabbit Action Group Silvan

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The Wabbit (rabbit) Action Group Silvan operates in an area of high value, intensive horticultural production on the urban fringe of Melbourne. Rabbit numbers have increased significantly over the last two decades, causing economic damage to orchard trees, berry crops, nursery and cut flower plants.

Small acreage holdings and the many hobby farms means that traditional methods of rabbit control are no longer appropriate. Traps are banned, baiting (1080) is not safe and ferreting is no longer popular. Shooting is still useful if care is taken but is discouraged by many people. Many lifestyle landholders have some complacency about the damage rabbits cause, perceiving them as ‘cute’.

Mechanical warren destruction is much more difficult here because a majority of warrens are in dam banks, creek banks, under trees or on land that is not to be disturbed for environmental reasons.
Blackberry infestations are a major harbour for rabbits and it is very difficult to get landowners, to clear blackberries.

WAGS has run several information workshops since it was formed 18 months ago. We have distributed Pindone bait to interested landholders. However, with plenty of fresh green grass all year round, rabbits do not eat the bait.

WAGS participated in the recent Calicivirus K5 release. The uptake of the treated bait was very encouraging but only one obvious Calici carcass has been collected. Our next spotlight count will, hopefully, confirm this success of the K5 release.
WAGS’ next steps are to assist the spread of the K5 virus by storing K5-dead rabbits for re-release of the virus at an opportune time in the future.

A demonstration plot is being developed to revegetate a warren-pocked area that was also infested with blackberries.

With ongoing funding, WAGS will continue to encourage and assist local landowners to combat rabbits in an area-wide multifaceted approach.

Compliance is not a dirty word!

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In fact our continuing compliance program, as developed by and for us, is one of the important reasons for the success of our Ongoing Pest Plant and Animal Integrated Control Programs.

Initially the officer responsible (DEPI at that time) approached The Granite Creeks Project to participate in planning the rabbit and blackberry compliance programs to be run in our region. The compliance program was explained. The most important part to us was that landholders are supported in meeting their obligations. Landholders are referred to our landcare groups for funding support and advice in addition to that provided by the Field Officers doing the inspections.

Secondly, and of critical importance, individual landholders are not ‘targeted’. Each year we identify a new compliance area. Over the eight years or more of the program, the selected areas have ensured a whole-of-landscape coverage; shown on the map. Our community knows that sooner or later, individually and collectively, they will be involved in a compliance program.

Many new owners have bought land over the past twenty years, many of whom have limited understanding and knowledge of the impact rabbits and blackberries have on their property, its value and the environment. For us compliance programs have supported our efforts to educate new landholders and have reinforced prior learning for longer-term landholders.

Because of the success of our community’s past work in pest plant and animal control, nearly all site visits by Field Officers provide an opportunity for landholders to be recognised and congratulated for the work they have done. Yes, there have been a few, less than %0.5, who have had to deal with the actions that result from non-compliance, but the community at large see this as supporting their own good work.

Net result … a win-win for agency staff and our community: a job made easier where limited resources are utilised with maximum and effective impact.

How we made it work-A Pest Plant and Animal Roadside Management Program

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Up until about 2011 there was a lot of doubt and controversy about who was responsible for pest plants and animals along roadsides. After a lot of consultation and hard work in establishing a determination, local councils were deemed to be responsible for all roadsides that were ‘council roads’. VicRoads would continue to maintain all roads and freeways for which they were responsible.

As a result of this decision the Victorian Government provided funding to shire councils to address roadside weed and pest management. Shires could engage contractors to undertake the work that would then be approved for payment.

Our shire’s initial funding was $150 000 over the first three years: this was extended to a fourth and fifth year – total funding was in the order of $250 000.

The rate base for our Shire is small. There are not many on-ground staff. Recognising this as an issue, that in the past weed control had led to sub-optimal results, our local landcare groups developed a model to assist the Shire in delivering the program.

Our proposition was that if the Shire met all the regulatory requirements of the funding, the landcare groups would inspect the roadsides to locate weeds and rabbits. Each group selected an approved contractor to undertake the work; a landcare representative supervised the work and approved final payment by the Shire to the contractor on the basis that work was completed to the required standard.

Shire officers, agency staff and the landcare group representatives have met annually to review and improve the program.

There has been a significant impact on the extent of roadside weeds. The involvement of the landcare groups meant that community education is more effective and our community owns the project. A win-win for all.

A Story of Success – Effective Rabbit Control Is A Long Haul

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Our rabbit control story has been ongoing … forever. In ‘the old days’ it was poison, spotlight, fumigate … every year, year after year! In the early 90s the tide began to change. We developed and implemented a broad scale, integrated approach that covered six landcare groups in our area – a total of 93 000 ha. To do this our community established a collaborative of the six groups. We called ourselves The Granite Creeks Project.

The community led integrated control program was developed by our Committee of Management. We decided to employ a fulltime Education Officer. This was a critical part of our early and ongoing success. The role was to actively educate our community by attending landcare meetings, contacting agencies, making site visits to individual and groups of landholders, publishing articles in local papers, building partnerships … we even featured in The Australian Geographic.

Often, the best things that can happen are unplanned … enter the 1995 RHDV impact. We were chosen as one of 17 data collection sites across Victoria. Our spotlight transect has been continuous from 1996 to 2017 … 22 years of data. Our control program has been in place for more than 25 years and continues every year … so what is the proof of success?

Rabbit counts for the 18 km transect are down from 1070 rabbits in 1996 to 8 in 2016. Cost to government and community is down to one tenth of 1996 expenditure. Land mangers have more time for other activities. Our current funding is in the order of $15 000 … because this is essentially all that is needed to maintain our previous investment and gains.

Some reasons for our ongoing success are that the program is landscape wide, it is community developed and community driven.

How can we empower the community to get involved?

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Following on from the large Field Days, four of us tackled the popular Market venues setting up Rabbit Control Information Stands at the Metung Market on two occasions late last year, and the Kings Cove Twilight Market this summer. Once again we provided information show-bags for the public, pictorial displays and a variety of specific information on Rabbit Control methods. We encouraged people to use Rabbit Scan and record their sightings, or download the app. These educational stands proved very popular with many people chatting and asking questions. Some had heard of the forthcoming release of the RHDV K5 release, many were interested in the methods of transmission. Most were local people living in relatively new housing subdivisions. Many advised they had a rabbit problem, but hardly any did anything about the problem themselves, they just let it be!

We found good numbers attended these markets and the public were certainly interested in talking to us. Again they saw no need to get involved; it was someone else’s problem, and they hoped someone would fix.

Rabbit Control – Getting the message out there

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Being a member of Landcare for many years we formed a Rabbit Control sub-Committee within our Nicholson Group and having gained a Grant we focussed on a major Rabbit Control Program along the East Gippsland Rail Trail with extensive works being undertaken in a team effort over several years. Initial monitoring indicated that the problem was extensive, the undergrowth thick along many parts of the selected section of Trail, and the work ahead arduous. This didn’t deter the stoic members and having nominated a “leader of the pack” for on ground works plans were soon underway. Much monitoring, clearing of undergrowth and removal of rabbit harbour was essential. We saw a need to engage the services of a young contractor to do much of the initial clearing with assistance from Landcare Members. GPS warren recording was a great help in mapping and planning the best methods of rabbit control. Cameras were also set up in several locations. Due to the type of area, existing plantations and terrain we found that methods had to be confined to fumigation of warrens. This was not an area we could follow up with Ripping.

Many small properties abutted the Rail Trail and by talking with these landholders we were able to offer assistance in reducing rabbit numbers on these properties. During the Project we conducted two Community Forums the first early in the project was designed to educated the community about Rabbits, the life cycle, how quickly numbers increase, the various methods which can be used, and the need to all “get on board” and “do your bit” to assist in reducing numbers. We were fortunate to be able to attract some excellent guest presenters for these educational programs. We worked well together in partnership with Contractors, other agencies, the Rail Trail Committee and a positive result was achieved. Monitoring continued. We all know, Rabbit Control needs to be on-going, there is a need for sufficient funds and manpower to continue, and it must be a concerted effort, everyone needs to get on board and keep going!

A second Community Forum was held as a follow up to convey our findings with excellent reports being given by Presenters including an extensive report from our young Contractor. We endeavoured to make these Forums attractive for people to attend by providing a B.B.Q and refreshments with catering supplied by Landcare members. Throughout the project we found tremendous cooperation between everyone, all worked as a team with much happy interaction.

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