Waning RHD effect spurs study

Recent research into possum control is being applied to rabbits. Photo from <i>ODT</i> files.
Recent research into possum control is being applied to rabbits. Photo from <i>ODT</i> files.
Recent research on possum control is being applied to rabbits.

The research programme was driven by the waning effectiveness of the rabbit-killing virus rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), with farmers increasingly having to rely on 1080 and pindone poisoning.

Going back to those conventional control methods was costing farmers a lot of money - up to $100 a hectare - Landcare Research scientist Bruce Warburton said.

There had not been research concerning conventional rabbit control since the introduction of RHD in 1997.

The virus was still working quite well in some areas, but rabbit numbers were getting away in other areas, Mr Warburton said.

Landcare, in collaboration with the Otago Regional Council, had recently completed the first set of trials, with the results due in a few weeks.

The standard way of applying poison aerially was in a broadcast fashion to "get it everywhere".

A series of trials were done this winter to test a range of different bait-sowing rates and applications, including concentrating bait into narrow strips, significantly reducing the amount being laid. This reduced both the cost and the amount of toxins going into the environment, he said.

The programme was also trying to find out how farmers could best integrate conventional rabbit control and RHD.

Some farmers were very pro-active and had secondary control built into their budgets for the year, while others were not so well organised and relied on RHD to "do the job", Mr Warburton said.

In July, the council's regional services group manager, Jeff Donaldson, said the return of RHD during summer helped prevent what could have been a very serious rabbit population explosion in Otago.



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