Poisoning planned as rabbits go to town in Wanaka

Otago Regional Council senior field adviser Peter Preston is preparing a winter rabbit poisoning programme for land alongside Lake Wanaka's Millennium Track.
Otago Regional Council senior field adviser Peter Preston is preparing a winter rabbit poisoning programme for land alongside Lake Wanaka's Millennium Track.
Many more Wanaka residents than usual will find themselves on the front line of the Otago Regional Council's battle against rabbits this winter.

The council has moved a full-time rabbiter - senior field adviser Peter Preston - into the town to run control programmes around urban areas and in problematic ''lifestyle'' subdivisions.

Council regional services director Jeff Donaldson said as the hot weather dried the region out, rabbit breeding and survival was increasing ''quite dramatically'' even with the RCD virus working around the region.

Particular areas of concern around Otago were the Strath Taieri, parts of North Otago, coastal sandy areas and, of course, Central Otago, he said.

''While the rain at Christmas drowned a fair number in their nests, the dry weather since then has meant breeding has continued without a problem.''

A lifestyle block in the Queensberry Tce area yesterday, which has been taken over by rabbits. Photos by Mark Price.
A lifestyle block in the Queensberry Tce area yesterday, which has been taken over by rabbits. Photos by Mark Price.
In Wanaka, many owners of small blocks of land were not taking the rabbit problem seriously enough, he said.

''As areas are being developed, people are doing less and less control work. Lifestylers don't have the same understanding about the damage rabbits will do compared to what a farmer does, so they haven't been doing the work.''

He accepted some lifestyle block owners might not be familiar with the signs rabbits were at problem levels - at more than three on the McLean scale - but others were aware and not acting.

In six cases around Wanaka, ''notices of direction'' have been imposed by the council on landowners, requiring them to deal with their rabbit problem this winter.

Part of the Queensberry Tce subdivision has one of the area's biggest rabbit problems.

Mr Preston said rabbit numbers there were ''really, really, really impressive''. He was planning to use carrot bait laced with 1080 poison.

The problem was, while some landowners had rabbits under control, others were absentee landowners and ''they just don't really care''.

''One woman's plan was to get her cats to kill them; another guy's plan was to buy a shotgun. If you look at the rabbits out there you will see that's just ridiculous.''

It was ''a nightmare'' getting all landowners to agree to a combined control programme, Mr Preston said. Of the 70 separate properties in the subdivision, 50 had too many rabbits.

Mr Donaldson said it was important for groups of landowners to work together.

There was also a rabbit problem around the Clutha River outlet.

A poisoning programme using 1080 poison on carrot bait was planned for the Millennium walking and cycling track around the edge of Lake Wanaka towards Glendhu Bay.

- mark.price@odt.co.nz